Brody is pro-choice on education

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 04:30 PM

Earlier this week a bill was presented titled the “Opportunity Scholarship Act.” It passed its first reading and is now in committee. 

The bill creates opportunity scholarship grants for children from lower-income families who want more educational opportunities. The bill would allocate no more than $4,200 to eligible students to attend a nonpublic school. 

“The bill intends to allow $4,200 scholarships to the people who want to send their kids to a private school,” Rep. Mark Brody, R-55, said. “The intent is to give people more options, more freedom of choice.”

Brody is one of the sponsors of the bill. He said it is generally meant for children from lower-income families. The bill also includes children from military households, children in foster care or children entering Kindergarten or first grade as eligible participants. The bill defines low-income as no more than 300 percent of the poverty line.

The $4,200 would come from the state’s allocation for students attending public schools, which is roughly $6,700, Brody said. The state would keep the difference to fund more scholarships. 

Brody acknowledged that the allocation would not cover expensive private schools, like Charlotte Latin in Mecklenburg County. 

“There are other schools that don’t charge that. In fact, what’s going to be encouraged is the starting of individual private schools,” Brody said. “You can educate your child in a private school setting for a lot less.”

In its first year, the State Education Assistance Authority, which will handle the program, will receive $40 million from the General Fund for 2013-2014 and $50 million for 2014-2015.

Brody described these allocations as “start-up” funding for a period of time. 

“It will take the start-up costs of the people who haven’t been (to public school), for example they’re just starting Kindergarten.” 

After the first couple of years, you will have built up a reserve, he added. 

He was unsure if the allocations will harm public schools.

“We’ll have to go through a couple years to see just what it affects,” Brody said. He added that there will be fewer students in public schools as a result of the scholarships. 

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ellis respects freedom of choice, though will strive to make UCPS the best choice, she said. 

“I talk about ‘my size fits me’ and who am I to say that ‘my size’ has to be a public school,” Ellis said. “I truly believe that UCPS can meet the needs of the vast, vast, vast majority of students,” she said. However, she acknowledged that it may not meet the needs of every student. 

“I do honor and respect that,” she said. 

Ellis voiced concerns about private schools having certified teachers. She remembered seeing students come from private schools during her 18 years as a teacher and some of them were “woefully behind,” she said. The bill requires the nonpublic schools to have background checks performed on all staff. 

“I respect every parent’s right for choice because I am a parent and I’ve made choices for my children...I hope parents do choose wisely and find the best fit for their children,” Ellis said. “I’m going to try to convince them that UCPS is the best choice.” 

Ellis said she will work to ensure that UCPS is the best choice for children.

The bill is now in a House committee and must pass through committees and the Senate.