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Deal to allow open enrollment for schools put on hold

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

A state legislative committee has postponed taking action regarding a bill that would allow North Carolina students attend any public school in the state.

Members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee voted last week to delay the bill, and said more study is needed to determine its feasibility. While supporters of the open enrollment bill state it would provide families with more choices, opponents expressed concerns regarding school districts’ abilities to fulfill the bill’s provisions.

The bill states that school districts would be required to set up plans allowing families to request a seat in any school in their home district or in any of the state’s other districts. A local board of education may deny a student’s request to be assigned to a school of preference for reasons such as lack of space, teaching staff or appropriate programs at the selected school.

For Lincoln County State Representative Jason Saine, the bill would increase problems rather than alleviate them.

“Quite frankly, I think the bill is very bold, but not something I would be supporting,” he said. “I think it would just cause way too much confusion. Certainly, there are opportunities to maybe make the process easier when people transfer and things of that nature. But I think from a planning standpoint, it’s awful difficult. It’s hard for school boards and their fiscal people to plan and be able to adequately accommodate students throughout the state…and I think that would just make it very, very complicated.”

According to legislative staff, the bill was modeled after the statewide school choice program in Colorado. According to the Education Commission of the States, 21 states currently have a mandatory inter-district open enrollment program.

Some representatives, such as Rep. Marvin Lucas, believe the bill would be unfair for low income families because school districts would not be required to provide bus service to program participants.

“It would have widened the chasm between affluent schools and poor schools,” Lucas said.

During the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee’s meeting, three other bills that would expand opportunities for families at nontraditional schools were sent forward. The first bill would restore the ability of local school board schools to give preliminary approval to charter school applicants. However, final approval would remain with the N.C. State Board of Education. The committee also approved bills that would establish a process for charter school applicants to appeal when they are rejected and would set aside $2.6 million to allow private school and home schooled students to take up to two free online courses a year form the N.C. Virtual Public School.

 

 

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