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Durham Public Schools charging unconstitutional public school tax that keeps underprivileged kids out

The following is a press release from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga

Children in Durham cannot access the public school resources available at “learning centers” inside public school buildings unless their parents pay a public school tax of $140 per week. Even children on free and reduced lunch must pay an unconstitutional public school tax of $70 per week, or $280 per month.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said, “Charging a tax on families who wish to access public learning center resources inside public schools is unconstitutional. Durham, and any other jurisdiction charging this illegal tax, is preventing underprivileged families from accessing public school resources. They need to repeal their unconstitutional school tax immediately.” 

Durham Public Schools is opening some of its school buildings as “learning centers.” It is not clear how operating a “learning center” inside of a public school building, using public school staff, is different from a public education.

The N.C. Constitution requires the state to provide “a general and uniform system of free public schools…wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

Charging a tax on families before they’re permitted to access public school buildings for “learning center” resources is in plain violation of the Constitutional requirement for “free public schools” with “equal opportunities.” This is yet another absurd outcome brought about by Gov. Cooper’s pandemic response.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), who co-chairs the Senate Education Committee, said, “Durham’s illegal school tax makes worse the very inequities a public school system is supposed to address. Durham will widen the achievement gap between well-off students and less fortunate students by making public schools accessible only to those who can afford to pay the tax.”

As a reminder, Republicans have increased public school funding by large amounts since coming into power in 2011. Education funding in North Carolina has increased by $968 per student in just four years, and $1,748 per student in nine years.

The state has a scholarship program, called the Opportunity Scholarship, to provide resources to low- and middle-income families to access the education that best suits their children’s needs. The far-left N.C. Association of Educators, with support from Gov. Roy Cooper, has been trying to kill the program for years.

Families may apply for Opportunity Scholarships here.


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.