State budget boosts funding for private school scholarships

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – As we near a final state budget, WNCT continues digging deeper into how it impacts people in the East.

It’s a win for low-income families trying to send their kids to private school, as the state budget increases funding for Opportunity Scholarships nearly 5 hundred percent.

These scholarships give up to 4 thousand dollars to each low-income recipient for tuition at private or religious schools.

The budget allocates more than 17 million dollars to Opportunity Scholarships this year, and more than 24 million next year. That’s a sharp increase from the 5 million dollars used in the program’s first year.

We spoke with Mary Pittman, whose son is on the scholarship waiting list. She says he has learning disabilities that a private school could better accommodate.

“He want to be able to be up where his peers are. And he feel like he’s so behind. He’s not that far behind, but because of his disabilities, you know he’s not where he should be and he feel that a private school would offer him more,” Pittman said.

The increased funding will support nearly 6 thousand student scholarships by next school year — an increase of more than 530 percent from the initial 11-hundred students who participated last year.

But some local boards and advocates, like Progress NC’s Evan Degnan, don’t support taking money away from public schools.

“For many of the folks, that scholarship is just simply not enough to pay for the cost of private education. So I think in large part, it’s going to end up subsidizing not the low-income folks that need those opportunities, but sort of as we expand it further and further, it’s just going to be helping middle class folks go to private school if they want to,” Degnan said.

A legal battle over the Opportunity Scholarship program ended just under two months ago. The State Supreme Court declared it legal.

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