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Voucher Update: Debate Heats Up, Legislation Moves Forward

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Debate about vouchers, which set aside public funds for private school tuition, and tax-credit scholarships, which provide tax breaks for those who contribute to scholarship funds designed to send students to private schools, have heated up around the country. Here's a quick look at a few places that are considering the merits and drawbacks of such programs:

• In North Carolina, lawmakers in the state House of Representatives have pushed forward a $20.6 billion budget that includes $10 million for private school vouchers. The voucher debate held up the process, with some back-and-forth between supporters and opponents of the program, but the bill did pass with a preliminary 77-41 count at the end of the day, says the News Observer. The House will hold its final vote on the budget today.

• In Louisiana, Times-Picayune editorial writer Jarvis DeBerry tackles the discrepancy between the low academic performance of voucher students on state tests versus the high level of parent satisfaction for such programs. According to a survey from the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which supports the voucher program, 93 percent of parents with students in the state's voucher program were satisfied with their children's schools. But those students participating in the voucher program also scored 30 points lower than their peers on statewide tests. In fact, under state law, seven of the schools will no longer be allowed to operate in the voucher program because of persistently low academic scores.

Kenneth Campbell, the national president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said he agreed that schools serving voucher students needed to improve their academic achievement. "You've got to do better. Period. Or you don't need to be doing this," he told the Times-Picayune.

• In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, has signed into law changes to a tax-credit scholarship program that will allow businesses, as well as individuals, to contribute to the fund, according to the Des Moines Register. The law also raises the cap on how much money can be raised, from $8.75 million to $12 million.

Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has announced that he will not exercise his veto power to expand the voucher program more quickly than the agreement reached by lawmakers, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The announcement came after speculation from The Cap Times that Gov. Walker, a proponent of vouchers who originally pushed to expand the program to nine school districts throughout the state, would use his veto power to allow the program to grow faster than the legislators' agreement, which would cap expansion growth at 500 students in its first year and 1,000 students in the second year.

Milwaukee has the oldest voucher program in the country, established in 1990. Since then, 21 states and the District of Columbia have created private school choice programs through tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, and education savings accounts, affecting nearly 1.1 million students in the United States, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

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