Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, writing in his column, “Trying a different way,” says that education secretary-designate Betsy DeVos believes in school choice. DeVos said it’s a “national injustice” that lower-income families whose children are struggling in public schools aren’t provided with the financial means to send their children to a private school. Thomas claims many on the left don’t want school choice, “not because it’s a bad idea, but because the Democratic Party doesn’t want to alienate teachers’ unions that oppose it.” He then goes on to state, “During the 1990s, (DeVos and her husband) patronized a private-school scholarship fund for low-income families.”
I don’t think the left, many of whom do not have political party affiliations, is against school choice because of the alienation of teachers’ unions. They’re mainly against it because of the way it’s being funded.
Instead of pilfering state public school funds to invest into the school voucher program, the North Carolina General Assembly should pass a bill requiring businesses and corporations with annual profits of $3 million or more to pay a minimal percentage of those profits into a Private School Opportunity Scholarship Program fund. It’s basically the same idea the DeVoses had in the 1990s when they funded a private school scholarship program themselves.
Currently, successful private businesses and corporations are benefiting from the General Assembly’s corporate income tax cuts. I believe they have a civic and moral responsibility to invest some of their profits into private education scholarships for those in need. The return on their investment will be a highly-skilled, successful workforce that will positively contribute to our local and state economies.
The most recent data (from 2014) indicates that 126 North Carolina businesses and 11 corporations headquartered and doing business here all had annual profits of $3 million or more. When combined, their annual profits amounted to $242 billion-plus. Using an arbitrarily chosen PSOSP tax rate of 5/100,000th applied toward each company’s annual profits, I determined that the PSOSP fund would have received over $12 million last year from these companies alone.
The most profitable company on the list is Bank of America with 2014 profits of $101.7 billion. While I’m using Bank of America’s worldwide profit numbers and those of the other 10 corporations mentioned above to generate this example, the PSOSP tax would only apply to its businesses located in North Carolina. Also, using the figures above, Bank of America would pay a tax of a little more than $5 million into the PSOSP fund. Among the least profitable companies is Providastaff, a health care provider based in Charlotte, with 2014 profits of $3.1 million. Its payment into the PSOSP fund would only be $155 a year.
With over 800,000-plus businesses operating in our state, it’s entirely possible to fund a PSOSP for low-income and minority families, providing even more money than the annual $10 million investment that the General Assembly has mandated, using public funds, through its voucher program. This proposal is based on only 137 businesses/corporations located in North Carolina. Surely there are others that would qualify for the PSOSP tax, increasing the PSOSP fund even more.
Also, the per-pupil funds that are currently leaving the public school system because of students moving into private schools would, through the PSOSP proposal, remain in public education and would ultimately raise our national per pupil spending standing from its current 43rd position.
Taxes earmarked for public education should remain in the public school system. A Private School Opportunity Scholarship Program funded by businesses and corporations fortunate enough to earn huge profits in North Carolina thanks to the support of its residents is our best hope of helping at-risk students achieve their goals of success. Let’s correct this state injustice now by supporting school voucher programs through private, not public, funds.
Rick Manheim is a former Buncombe County school teacher and current Vice-President and Legislative Chair of the Asheville/Buncombe North Carolina Retired School Personnel.