House Bill 944, a school voucher bill, aims to spend $90 million of taxpayer money over the next two years to subsidize private school tuition, takes money away from already underfunded public schools and offers little accountability to taxpayers.
Here are just some of the reasons this proposal would be a disaster for North Carolinas public education system:
It will do little for the people its supposedly designed to help. Lower- to middle-income families who try to use the $4,200 voucher will still be left with a tuition balance they cannot afford. Vouchers are more likely to be used by those who would be able to choose private schools anyway. Further, access to the funds would be awarded by the order of applications received, not by need.
Does this seem like a fair way to approach opportunity for all children? It favors those who have the ability to pay the tuition difference and to provide their own transportation. What about communities where no adequate private education program even exists? Should these taxpayers subsidize more affluent urban areas?
Currently, North Carolina spends about $8,400 per student in public schools, which ranks us 48 nationally in per-pupil spending. Now the proponents of this bill are saying our kids can be educated for half that amount?
Vouchers have never lived up their promise. Supporters claim that vouchers are a solution to student achievement problems, but evidence shows that they fail to produce this result. Repeated studies have shown that the oldest voucher program in the U.S. (Milwaukee) has produced literally no improvement in the performance of the citys schoolchildren. Last November, a district judge ruled Louisianas voucher program unconstitutional. Florida voters defeated an amendment that would have made it possible to channel public funds to private schools. Just this month, by a bipartisan vote of 103-43, the Texas legislature voted against using state dollars to fund private education.
House Bill 944 will tear apart our communities by privatizing education. Good public education systems build strong communities. They are a vital tool of economic development, an anchor for our cities and towns offering jobs and a dependable, accountable way for children to be educated for future jobs. While all school systems have room for improvement, cutting funding is clearly not the way to go about it.
Vouchers offer the illusion of greater parental choice, but private schools are under no obligation to accept all students and can even have a religious affiliation. Using public dollars to fund schools that cannot serve all students violates the N.C. Constitution. It is a misuse of public tax dollars and a cynical approach that will result in a public school system that is highly segregated by income and race.
Taxpayers are already being asked to support expansion of charter schools with fewer safeguards on how the money is spent or on student achievement. Vouchers are another experiment our taxpayers cannot afford.
Vouchers drain resources from the one institution that must accept and educate all children who walk through their doors: the public schools. The state constitution guarantees a sound basic education to all children. A $90 million giveaway from the public schools will have real and serious consequences for the quality of instruction that public schools can provide. The most disadvantaged students are the most likely to remain in public schools, which will be asked to do ever more with less.
So why, given these many problems, would state lawmakers even consider such a potentially disastrous proposal? The answer, as it is so often, appears to be the influence of big money.
North Carolinas voucher proposal is clearly linked to model legislation being pushed in state legislatures by the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council. Some of the sponsors simply want government out of education and want it to be in private hands, but much of the push to privatize schools is motivated by profit private companies seeing an opportunity to make money in a new sector.
Vouchers are a failing proposition all around. We encourage our community to reject private school vouchers and tuition tax subsidies that undermine public accountability in education and ignore the needs of our 1.5 million public school students.
Instead, lets work to improve, not weaken, our public schools.
Yevonne Brannon and Nick Rhodes are board members for Public Schools First NC ( publicschoolsfirstnc.org).