Questions for Betsy DeVos: What happens if you offer vouchers and there are few takers?  Why increase the supply when the demand is small?

The Tea Party Republicans who won control of the North Carolina legislature believed that families across the state were aching to get into a religious school, so they created a voucher program and promised it would grow larger every year to meet the demand that was expected. But the funds are running far ahead of demand, and millions have been appropriated for vouchers that no one wants. 

It is encouraging to see that even Republican legislators realize what a stupid thing it is to provide millions that go unspent when the public schools attended by nearly 90% of students are underfunded.

State lawmakers keep adding money for North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which sends low-income kids to private schools, even though there aren’t enough takers to spend the money it already has.

With millions going unspent each year, the state budget approved in 2017 guarantees the voucher program will get a $10 million bump each year for the next decade.

That needs to stop, a key Republican lawmaker says.

“We’ve got other needs,” said Rep. Craig Horn of Union County, who chairs the House Education Appropriations Committee. “We need to right-size this thing.

The two-year state budget approved in 2017 cited “the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students” and spelled out Opportunity Scholarship budgets that would start at $44.8 million in 2017-18 and top out at $144.8 million in 2027-28.

When that plan was approved, the fund had already left a total of $12.6 million on the table during its first three years, numbers provided to The Charlotte Observer show. Even in 2017-18, when a cap on administrative expenses was lifted and that bill more than tripled, the fund used only about $29.5 million of the $34.8 million available.

Any unused money rolls over for use in the voucher program the following year, then reverts to the state’s General Fund if it remains as surplus for a second year, according to the state’s budget legislation….

Charles Jeter, a former state representative who now serves as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools government relations coordinator, says that the history of unspent voucher money gives lawmakers an easy way to free up some money for public education. Based on numbers he had gotten from the Opportunity Scholarship web page, he reported that the program had used only $28 million of $45 million allotted for the 2017-18 school year.

“So why do taxpayers across NC need to increase the funding for these vouchers by another $10 million when we’re only spending about 63% of the money now?” he wrote in his weekly “Jetergram” email.

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