Tuition Waiver Bill Heard in Committee

Members of the House Education Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would begin phasing out a tuition waiver program for graduates of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Currently, graduates of NCSSM receive free tuition to attend any University of North Carolina institution. That program was created in 2003 when Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, included the program in the Senate’s version of the state budget. There was no debate on the program at the time.

H.B. 1269, sponsored by Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, and Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, would phase out the program and only offer the waiver to students enrolled at the school during the 2007-08 academic year and earlier. According to the House budget committee report, 800 NCSSM students receive a tuition waiver at an average of $3,441 per grant, costing the state more than $2.7 million annually.

Education committee members unanimously supported the bill, as well as an amendment offered by Stam. That amendment would authorize a $25,000 study to examine an alternative program in which graduates who teach at a public school for three years in science and math would receive free tuition. The study would also ask the school to examine why students from low- and moderate-income families are less likely to attend the school than students from families who make more than $70,000.

Luebke called the tuition waiver program unfair, saying that many of those who receive the grant can afford the tuition at the state’s public higher education institutions. Also, they are likely to qualify for other merit-based programs that would provide full funding for their tuition.

NCSSM is in Luebke’s legislative district. He said he has not heard from teachers who support the program.

Luebke added that many teachers are afraid to say how they feel publicly out of fear for their jobs. Luebke, a professor at UNC-Greensboro, said those fears represent a violation of academic freedom.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. It must be approved in that committee before it can be heard on the House floor.

Thursday is the deadline for bills to clear either the House or the Senate this session.