Carroll Education Opportunity Fund will soon be accepting applications

Parents of home-schooled and private school children will be able to apply for funds from the recently created Carroll County Education Opportunity Fund in about two weeks after county commissioners unanimously approved the fund's organizational structure Thursday.

The controversial Education Opportunity Fund was approved by commissioners in May as part of the fiscal year 2014 budget. It allocates $400,000 of the fiscal year 2013 surplus to support and enhance opportunities for non-public school children by reimbursing their parents for purchases made on educational items.

The funds will be available to any county student in kindergarten through 12th grade that chooses a non-public education. Students will be limited to $1,000 per year.

Community Foundation of Carroll County Executive Director Audrey Cimino said parents can begin applying for reimbursement of purchases from the fall semester as soon as county officials sign the appropriate paperwork with the Community Foundation and transfer the $400,000.

Board of County Commissioners Chief of Staff Steve Powell said that is expected to be completed within two weeks.

The county had charged the Community Foundation of Carroll County with organizing the structure and developing guidelines for the fund's distribution. A committee of seven community members met three times in recent months to develop the guidelines for fund distribution, which Cimino presented to commissioners Thursday.

Under the approved structure, a committee established by the Community Foundation will decide which applications receive reimbursements. The committee will include a private school parent, a parochial school parent, a home school parent, a representative from the business community, and a representative from the Community Foundation.

To be on the committee, parents must not have a child currently enrolled in home or private school, Cimino said.

The group can be expanded based on volume of work or if it deems expansion necessary, she said.

Funds from the Education Opportunity Fund could be used for:

• Textbooks, study and technical materials

• Science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) experiences and supplies

• Computer programs and educational software

• Technology networking ($250 per student maximum)

• Education related transportation expenses for students

• Fees for physical education, music, drama, art and other cultural experiences

• Appropriate student conferences, workshops or seminar fees

• Purchase of services from the Carroll County Public Schools system for the benefit of non-public and home schooled children

• Other ancillary and miscellaneous expenses deemed appropriate by the advisory committee

• Fees associated with the above mentioned categories

While Cimino said she is unsure how many applications will be received at first, she added that they will be judged based on category of need.

For example, a reimbursement request for books and technology may be deemed more important than that of a workshop by the committee, she said.

Some community members had criticized the creation of the fund, in part because they said it took funding away from the public school system.

County Commissioners Doug Howard, Richard Rothschild and Haven Shoemaker each took time Thursday to clarify that money for the fund was not taken from school system funding.

"The fact remains that we have 9,000 kids in this county who are either in parochial school, private school, or home school," Shoemaker said. "I don't think it's a good idea to leave them out of the equation."

Cimino added that she could envision parents of home and private-school students contributing to the fund in the future.

"The very people that are benefiting from it [now] are the very people that are going to build it," she said.

If Carroll is successful in implementing the fund, Cimino believes other counties may create a similar fund.

"This could be a model for other communities to do," she said. "Other eyes are watching, not just our own."

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