Ned Barnett: It’s time to admit it. North Carolina’s school voucher program is a failure.
In an editorial at the News&Observer, Ned Barnett lays out just how badly North Carolina’s voucher pr0ogram has failed its students.
Republican state lawmakers can’t bring themselves to spend what they should on public schools and they can’t stop themselves from spending what they shouldn’t on private schools.
That’s obvious from a look at the new state budget. The spending plan is far short of what a judge has found to be necessary to meet the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education. Republicans are challenging the legality of the judge’s order.
Meanwhile, deep in the two-year budget bill is a startling increase in what the Republican-led General Assembly wants to spend on the Opportunity Scholarship Program to help children meet the cost of attending a private school.
The per-student annual voucher is being increased from a flat $4,200 to 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil allotment for public school students, or $5,900. At the same time, the budget widens the door to the program by raising the family income limit. For a family of four, it’s now up to $85,000.
This sweetening isn’t because Republican lawmakers are feeling generous. It’s happening because they are trying to expand school choice and not enough parents want the choice they’re offering. The program, launched in 2014 and currently with 19,240 recipients, has been unable to spend its annual allocation.
Senate leader Phil Berger explained the program’s goal in an op-ed earlier this year. He wrote, “Republicans created the Opportunity Scholarship Program with grants to less fortunate children so they, too, can attend private schools previously reserved for the wealthy.”
But that’s not really the case. Even at $5,900, the voucher isn’t enough to pay for a first-rate private school where the annual tuition can be more than $20,000.
Instead, opportunity scholarships enable children to attend smaller, mostly religious schools, many of them offering a curriculum that does not meet the state’s public school standards. Indeed, the voucher program sends money to private schools without requiring that the schools even be accredited, have licensed teachers, offer clear measurement of students’ academic progress or, in most cases, submit an accounting of their finances.