State legislators are expected to vote on a $20.6 billion budget that would further privatize the state’s education programs.
North Carolina state legislators are expected to vote this week on a historic $20.6 billion budget that would further privatize the state’s education programs, expanding a voucher program that allows families to use taxpayer money to pay private-school tuition.
Often called “opportunity scholarships” by school voucher advocates, voucher programs have been enacted in about 12 states and Washington, D.C., thus far. They are designed to help students with disabilities, low-income students, students attending chronically low-performing schools, and students in military families or foster care.
The budget would create a $10 million program allowing families that fall within certain income parameters to use taxpayer money to help pay private-school tuition for their children. The voucher program would go into effect starting in the 2014-2015 school year.
North Carolina has previously looked at implementing a voucher program, but Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a group that supports the vouchers, says past efforts were squashed by worries that there wasn’t enough time to get the program up and running before the school year began.
Allison and other parents and lawmakers in favor of the “opportunity scholarships” say that taxpayer money should be used to pay for the private tuition of children whose needs are not met by public schools.
He said the vouchers “represent a growing momentum in our state to ensure that every child receives the education best suited to their needs, which we know will help increase the quality of education they receive.”
“Opportunity Scholarships will become a critical cornerstone in meeting the growing needs of children who show up at the schoolhouse doors each year still unable to read, write, and solve math problems at grade level,” he said.
But public school advocates argue that the voucher program and privatization of the public school system won’t have the positive impact on student achievement that voucher program advocates predict.
Groups such as the Public Schools First NC stress that “the best investments for our children, our communities and North Carolina’s future is a strong, well-funded local public school system.”
The group’s statements echo that of the National Parent Teacher Association, which says that “public education provides a common experience for building and maintaining a commitment to the basic values of a democratic system of government. A strong public education system is vital to America’s well-being.”
Part of the concern is that the voucher program will divert about $100 million from the already-underfunded public school system during the next three years. And as the program expands every year to new participants, more and more taxpayer dollars will be given to private schools.
According to a report on the North Carolina Justice Center’s website by Matt Ellinwood, a policy analyst for the group’s Education and Law Project, a majority of neutral academic research conducted on voucher programs found that “voucher recipients either perform worse than traditional public school students or that these programs can show no positive impact on student achievement.”
Since families participating in the program will receive a voucher for about $4,200 per year — which is reportedly far less than the tuition at a majority of the state’s private schools — many low-income voucher program participants will end up sending their children to the lowest-performing private schools in their area.
Even so, Allison says he thinks the program will help many families who have no option other than to send their children to private and charter schools.
“This budget reflects a very aggressive campaign to privatize public education and dismantle the teaching profession,” said Yevonne Brannon, a volunteer with the group Public Schools First NC.
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said that the state already struggled to recruit teachers because it has one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the nation. He said the proposed budget would only hurt the profession.
“It’s a sad day in North Carolina when educators and districts and our communities are going to suffer behind a budget that certainly had the potential to do far better in public education,” Ellis said.
In addition to the increase in funding for the voucher program, the new budget would end the teacher tenure program and increase tuition at the University of North Carolina schools by as much as 12.3 percent for out-of-state residents.