Voucher ploy could be disastrous for public schools

February 28, 2013 

Public school superintendents have long fought an idea that rears up from time to time in the General Assembly: giving public money to parents for the purpose of paying for private schools for their children. Republican lawmakers, more inclined to push this idea now that they have control on Jones Street, should instead pull the reins.

Vouchers are a bad idea on several levels. First, there’s just plain principle. Public money should fund public schools. The historic promise of a free education for young people, given because of the opportunity it provides for the bettering of lives and thus the bettering of a state and nation, has been kept, through good times and bad.

There always have been private schools, and that’s as it should be. But the choice of such a school is one freely made by parents who expect to have to pay for it. It’s an option for those who believe their children will get smaller classes and other benefits. Other parents like the idea, long existent in the United States, of an education that focuses on Christian values or contains other religious instruction.

But the vast majority of schoolchildren in North Carolina and in the United States attend public schools. And make no mistake: While some have no other choice because of financial reasons, many like the broad exposure their children get to those of many backgrounds, believing it to be a part of a well-rounded education.

Now, once again, some in the General Assembly want vouchers. The idea is presented as an opportunity for lower-income people, targeted to them in order to provide them with an educational “option.”

But the logic sounds more like a way to get a voucher foot in the door of the public bank. What begins as a program for lower-income families likely would soon be expanded as more groups of parents demanded the same option, even if they are not lower-income.

And one may be sure that when Republicans talk about vouchers for low-income parents, they’re not talking about the kind of assistance that would pay in full for those parents to send their children to top-shelf, expensive private schools such as Raleigh’s Ravenscroft or Cary Academy. More than likely, a voucher would be for something like $2,500 at the most.

In getting the program started, however, voucher advocates would have what they want, the opportunity to expand and expand some more.

And what happens?

Meanwhile, the noble mission of public education carries on, with Republicans in the legislature looking for ways to cut public education money.

A voucher system would do it. The public schools would surely lose if vouchers won. And public elementary and secondary schools are underfunded as it is. Most teachers go in their own pockets for supplies.

And most, yes, work into the night as they try to stay on the frontlines of the most noble mission of them all, seeing to it that the children of the homeless get a quality education alongside those who live in mansions. A teacher’s reward certainly isn’t in a paycheck; it’s in seeing students succeed and move ahead and realize their dreams.

Public schools are the best thing we do. We should invest more in them, not less.

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