Opportunity Scholarships, the Republican program pushed through the General Assembly by conservatives, provide up to $4,200 in annual scholarships for lower-income families who want to attend private schools.
That might pay a healthy part of the way to a private church school or a smaller neighborhood school, where those schools are free of many regulations designed to ensure quality in public schools, but $4,200 is just a fraction of what it costs to send a kid to a high-quality private school.
Nearly $25 million will be designated for the scholarships in 2016-17. And there will be more to come. Although the program was touted as something to help lower-income families have “school choice,” Republicans fully intend to expand it to include all families, a maneuver that would change the face of public education in North Carolina forever.
But Republicans aren’t stopping their changes there. Now comes a proposal in the General Assembly for “Achievement School Districts,” wherein poorly performing public schools might be taken over by for-profit charters in an attempt to turn them around. The problem is, there’s no guarantee a charter company could do that, and establishing such districts would put a stigma on these schools and the children in them that wouldn’t go away.
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Critics rightly fear that setting up such a district or districts would create another school system in North Carolina, a cockeyed hybrid, public and private, and might spread before the performance under a new setup could be properly evaluated. What happens to those children serving as human guinea pigs in these hybrid schools if the great “solution” doesn’t work? Their educations would be, for several years, simply lost on the wind.
The state would do much better to not give some of its schools over to risky experimentation but instead to invest in troubleshooting teachers and administrators to go to a troubled school or schools and implement long-term solutions, along with gaining the money to do so. Copping out with a decidedly risky experiment is not the way.