Photo by Clayton Henkel

This story originally published online at NC Newsline.

Both Senate Republicans and House Republicans want tax cuts more spending on private school vouchers, but their ideas differ in the details. 

The differing tax and school voucher proposals could end up as points of conflict in the House and Senate budget proposals. 

Senate Republicans have lined up behind a universal school voucher program that would give taxpayer money to families for private school tuition, with the amount based on the cost to  educate a student in public school. 

Under Senate bill 406, even the wealthiest families in the state could receive taxpayer money to help with private school tuition and fees.

That would be new for the state, which has had some income requirements since the voucher program started. The bill also stands out because Senate leader Phil Berger is on as a co-sponsor. Berger has put his name on only seven bills so far this year. 

The Senate Republicans’ proposed voucher expansion is one of the areas where their version of the state budget may differ from the budget the House approved earlier this month. 

The House budget would expand the program by allowing older students to qualify for first-time voucher use, but it maintains family income requirements.  

Senate Republicans have also outlined cuts to the personal income tax rate in Senate bill 651 that are deeper than the tax cuts in the House budget. Berger is the lead sponsor.

The Senate proposal would cut this year’s personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent and drop it in steps to 2.49% after 2026. This year’s personal income tax rate is 4.75 percent.

The House budget accelerates personal rate cuts, but keeps the 3.99 percent rate for the post-2026 years that legislators had previously established. 

Any new tax cut proposal would also be included in the Senate budget, and could become another point of disagreement with the House. 

The House and Senate pass their own budget proposals, then members of the two chambers negotiate a compromise that the legislature approves and sends to the governor.

The Senate plan is for a universal voucher that takes money that would have supported students in public schools and uses it to cover the cost of private schools. Under these kinds of programs, family income requirements are eased or erased.

Arizona passed its universal voucher program last year. Florida passed a universal voucher law last month. 

The House budget projects $352.5 million would go into the voucher fund in 2031-2032, up from 176.5 million in 2023-24.

Senate Republicans projects $494.5 million going into the voucher fund in 2031-2032.

The Senate plan would take all or a portion of what the state spends on a public school student each year and put it toward private school tuition and fees. 

“Education funds should follow the student, and we must fund students, not systems,” Sen Amy Galey, an Alamance Republican said in a statement when the bill was filed. 

“Expanding Opportunity Scholarships encourages school choice and broadens the options available to families,”

On his website Notes from the Chalkboard, public school teacher Justin Parmenter wrote that the voucher program directs taxpayer money to schools that focus on religious teaching and are legally allowed to discriminate. While fewer than 50 percent of public school students are white, 61 percent of this year’s voucher recipients are white, he wrote. 

Many traditional public schools are struggling because Republican policies have run off good teachers and hurt student learning, Parmenter wrote. 

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