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A retired law officer who says the North Carolina Legislature handed out $50 million in private school vouchers while cutting classroom teaching assistants, the State Highway Patrol and other services, is running for the Republican nomination for the state House seat held by Rep. Chuck McGrady.
Ronnie Edwards, who retired as an investigator with the Division of Motor Vehicles, said he is running "because we've got to get the fiscal budget back under control with some common sense."
"Our current legislators cut everything from public education to Highway Patrol communication centers and helicopters yet allotted 50 million dollars for private school vouchers," Edwards, who is married to Henderson County School Board member Lisa Edwards, said in a statement he released Sunday. "This does not make good fiscal sense. Counties all across the State are struggling to trim their budgets and meet the needs of their residents, I'd like to work with legislators to make sure Raleigh does the same."
Edwards said in an interview that the Legislature's decision to shift state money to vouchers for private schools hurts public schools.
"I'm talking about getting the public schools on a level playing field," he said. "The Legislature gave $50 million for a voucher program to give to private business. We're funding a private business. We're taking our tax dollars for private schools."
He said that decision gives money to schools that are not subject to the same standards as public schools. One example, he said, is that private school teachers are not subject to background checks like public school teachers are.
Edwards is high in his figure for school vouchers. The General Assembly approved $10 million for private school vouchers — which sponsors call Opportunity Scholarships — that low-income families can apply for beginning in next year.
Edwards said the elimination of hundreds of teacher assistant positions across the state was a poor decision by the Legislature.
"Fiscal responsibility is using taxpayer dollars wisely and I really believe there are wiser uses for 50 million tax dollars," he said. "It doesn't take much thought to figure out the payback to the taxpayer is much greater in a teacher assistant than a voucher."
Edwards also said he would like to see a review of regulations affecting small businesses.
"Working for a small business since my retirement I see the day-to-day challenges they face," he said.
He works as a fleet manager for Single Source Industrial Solutions in Fletcher.
A hiker and mountain biker, Edwards said he would like to see more trails, especially for beginners, to encourage young children to get outdoors. He also said he would like to see physical education emphasized more than it has been.
Edwards said in the news release that he knows challenging a well-funded incumbent will be tough but he feels the need to serve North Carolina as he has in law enforcement for the past 30 years. He said he planned to offer a common sense approach to fiscal responsibility and an attitude of collaboration rather than chaos and hopes "message not money" will resonate with voters.
McGrady said earlier this month that he plans to run for re-election to a third term and has been raising money for the 2014 campaign.