The North Carolina Supreme Court has reversed Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s earlier decision not to allow public tax dollars to be used for private school education. In essence, the 2013 decision by our state legislators to offer vouchers to needy families, so they can send their children to private rather than their neighborhood public schools, will now free up the $10.8 million that was originally set aside for this program. It is also worth noting that our state’s lawmakers will seek to increase the voucher program, known as Opportunity Scholarships, by an additional $7 million for future school years.
Many educators have argued that vouchers are an ill conceived idea. Their strongest argument is that private schools are not held accountable for their academic performances. I can certainly attest to this. As a former interim head of a private school I did not experience any oversight by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, or any other state agency for that matter. In essence, this means that the state will have no way of knowing if the students who transfer from a public to a private school will have improved academically. Also, in addition to the price tag of the vouchers, each public school that loses a student will also lose the associated state and local funding that comes with that child.
At a time when the budget is tight the state legislature’s decision to offer vouchers flies in the face of logic. Why, for instance, are we offering vouchers while eliminating teacher assistants from the classrooms? In essence, North Carolina will offer approximately 4,000 students an opportunity to attend private schools next year – at a cost that could have kept more than 5,500 teacher assistants gainfully employed in our public school classrooms. All in all, our state politicians, who have demonstrated on more than one occasion that they know very little about public school education, have essentially traded a significant number of teacher assistants, the value of which is supported by ample research, for a program that will forever leave us asking if it made any difference.
Our state’s Republican led House and Senate, supported by the governor, have been passing legislation at breakneck speed for the past few years. When it comes to education, it almost seems as if they are in a race with themselves to see how much damage they can inflict in the shortest period of time. Unfortunately, it will take decades to undo the damage they are doing to our state’s educational system.