Empty desks in classroom

RALEIGH — North Carolina families who send their children to private schools or who homeschool them could get tax credits under legislation that state lawmakers say provides coronavirus relief.

Legislation filed this week would give tax credits of up to $2,500 per student for North Carolina families who send their children to private schools and up to $500 per child if they homeschool them. Taxpayers would have to meet eligibility requirements such as having received a federal CARES Act stimulus check and seen a drop of at least 10% in their adjusted gross income.

“It will help save the state money and provide continuity for families,” state Sen. Rob Bryan, a Mecklenburg County Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, said in an interview. “Most families are generally happy with their situation and want to stay in their situation the following year. This is a COVID relief provision.”

Senate Bill 857 is already drawing heated reaction from different groups.

Michael D. Priddy, acting president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, said the General Assembly should be focusing on how to support the state’s 1.5 million public school students.

“Senate Bill 857 ultimately diverts those already scarce and desperately needed public resources toward families who have made the choice to attend private schools and homeschools that are not held to any meaningful standards of public academic accountability or financial transparency by our state leaders,” Priddy said in a statement.

But Michael Long, president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said the legislation recognizes how families are facing financial hardships due to the pandemic.

“During times like this, it is only right for leaders in our state to pursue appropriate means to support our state’s citizens, and that should include families who exercise school choice,” Long said in a statement. “We applaud Senator Rob Bryan and the co-sponsors of SB 857 for working to ensure families in our state can continue to enroll their child in the school of their choice during these trying times.”

Last school year, an estimated 142,037 North Carolina children were homeschooled while 102,400 students attended private schools. Those two groups, along with the state’s 116,316 charter schools students, are the reason why more than 20% of North Carolina’s students no longer attend traditional public schools.

But since the coronavirus pandemic struck, more than 1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment benefits. Bryan said he’s concerned many families could transfer their children from private schools to public schools. He says that would not be a good thing for the state.

It could require an additional $64 million in state public school funding if 10% of private school students transferred to public schools, according to EdChoice, a national school choice advocacy group.

“If all those kids were to transfer to public schools, we couldn’t handle it from a facility side or from a cost side,” Bryan said.

Bryan said the state could save money by providing families the $2,500 per child tax credit to keep them in private schools. He says it’s only meant to be a temporary measure.

The bill also includes a section allowing some people to file income tax deductions for bonus and overtime pay.

Priddy of the Public School Forum said the bill is another effort to take away money that could go to support public schools. He pointed to efforts such as the Opportunity Scholarship Program, where the state provides up to $4,200 per year for lower-income families to send their children to K-12 private schools.

“SB 857 is another conduit toward funneling public dollars into privatized educational arenas, which have shown to be a poor use of public dollars when it comes to ensuring every child has equitable access to a sound basic education,” Priddy said.

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