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Bill Which Would Allow Students To Attend Any Public School Postponed

North Carolina legislators say they want to allow students to attend any public school in the state.

State lawmakers voted on Monday to postpone a bill that would allow North Carolina students to attend any public school in the state, noting that more study is needed.

Members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee raised concerns about the plan’s logistics and potential overcrowding problems it could lead to, among other issues.
“This bill, I think, we may need to spend a little more time discussing it,” said Republican Rep. Bryan Holloway, suggesting legislators talk to school superintendents. “I think there are some questions that need to be answered.”
The draft legislation would allow students to cross district lines and attend any public school in the state without paying tuition. Students would just need to receive permission from the desired school.
Democratic Representative Marvin Lucas said he's concerned that the plan would not require transportation for students choosing to go to a school outside his or her district. He says that it could lead to less diverse schools. 
“Because you'll find folk who have the resources will make the application to move to another district, and usually they'll make the request to move from a poor district to a relatively affluent district,” Marvin said at the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee meeting.
Other lawmakers said that moving students across district lines could also lead to overcrowded schools and funding disparities between districts. 
The decision to postpone the bill means that it’s less likely to go before the General Assembly during the short session this month. But legislators will continue to consider the legislation.

Our original story about this issue:

State lawmakers say they want to allow students to attend any public school in North Carolina.

Under the proposed legislation, families would be able to send their student to a school in their home district or outside their district without having to pay tuition or receiving permission from the school system they’re leaving.

School districts, however, would have the ability to deny a student entry for reasons like limited space.  

“What it does is create parity among public schools and charter schools – to create a level-playing field.” says Senator Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican who helped develop the legislation.

Hartsell says he and other lawmakers want to create a student-centered system that allows families to select a school or district that best suits them.

The draft “open enrollment” bill was presented this week by a subcommittee of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Committee, and will be presented in front of the full committee next week.

'How Would It Work?'

Some state education leaders say the bill raises major concerns and unanswered questions. Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Boards Association, worries about the financial logistics.  

“Especially for districts that are surrounded by other counties that do not appropriate as much money per child,"  she says. “There are concerns that the necessary dollars to educate a child in their system would not come with that child.”

Winner says she consulted all of her school district members and did not get any positive feedback. They raised financial, as well as transportation and logistical concerns.

The legislation would not require districts to provide transportation for families who send their kids to schools outside their home districts.

State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine says she understands the potential problems with the plan, but thinks state leaders should continue to explore the idea.

“I think it would be worth thinking about from the perspective of the small districts in the northeastern part of the state, where curricular opportunities are limited and other resources to ensure student achievement are very sparse,” she says. “That also applies to some of your medium-sized, low-wealth districts as well.”

'More School Choice'

The draft legislation comes at a time when state education leaders and Republican lawmakers continue to push for the private school voucher program. Meant to expand options for families, a bill passed last year rewards low-income students with $4,200 vouchers to attend private schools. The controversial program has been halted and is held up in court challenges.

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, has been one of the biggest supporters of the private school vouchers – also known as Opportunity Scholarships. He says the latest efforts to expand school options is a positive step.

“You can’t go wrong, I believe, you can’t go wrong,” says Allison. “It has to be well thought-out, have the right funding, but you can’t go wrong with an approach like this to where parents feel like they have more decisions on how best to education their children.”

Allison points to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, which allows students to attend any school in the district. He says more districts should model after that approach and that the state should continue to pursue avenues that give students more choice.

The draft “open enrollment” bill will go before the full Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Committee next week. It’s uncertain whether the committee will recommend that the bill go to the General Assembly during the short session next month. Senator Hartsell says the draft legislation is just “the first step.” 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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