HB 344 passes House, awaits governor’s signature

Published 11:39 am Friday, June 17, 2011

RALEIGH – In a momentous and historic effort for North Carolina parents, a measure that will benefit thousands of students is now a signature away from becoming reality.

Behind strong bipartisan and public support, House Bill 344 (Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities) passed with a decisive unofficial 95-20 vote in the House on Thursday morning. The measure, which now heads to the governor’s desk, allows parents of special needs children to claim a tax credit for educational expenses that include private school tuition, therapy and tutoring.

Thursday’s tally in the NC House followed Wednesday night’s dominant 44-5 vote in the Senate.

The significance of this bipartisan backing is that 65 percent of all Democrats – 14 out of 19 Democrats in the Senate and 32 out of 52 Democrats in the House – voted for the measure, which mirrors the support from constituents for this kind of legislation, said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). A February statewide poll of Democratic voters, commissioned by PEFNC, found that 82 percent of voters favored such a program.

Locally, Representative Michael Wray of Gaston and Senator Ed Jones of Enfield supported the measure. Representative Annie Mobley of Ahoskie was opposed.

This strong support would not be possible without the work of Rep. Paul Stam, the bill’s primary sponsor, Allison added. His genuine and valiant effort in working with parents, statewide disability groups and leaders in our traditional public school system on this measure is something that should be praised, he said.

The vote comes on the heels of both chambers overwhelmingly supporting a measure eliminating the state’s charter school cap. That, combined with Thursday’s count, represents the growth of a parental school choice movement that will benefit many North Carolina families, Allison said.

“With this strong showing of support within and beyond the legislature, our hope is that this is enough compelling evidence for our governor to support this measure with her signature,” Allison said. “With a stroke of her pen, thousands of families will be able to afford placing their special needs children in educational environments that meet all of their needs.”

Nearly 200,000 K-12 students in North Carolina public schools are estimated to be receiving special education and other related services this school year. This costs the state $8,160 and school districts $1,931 per student. It is estimated that up to five percent of qualified students will take advantage of the tax credit, which would annually save taxpayers up to $10 million and school districts up to $4 million per year within the next five years.

Programs similar to House Bill 344 exist in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah.

“Pending the governor’s approval, this will be the first piece of K-12 legislation that gives parents statewide choice regarding public and private education in North Carolina; in a word, awesome,” Allison said.