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Vouchers divert money from the public schools that need it

From Kevin J. Rogers, policy and public affairs director for Action NC, in response to “Give low-income students an equal shot at private schools” (May 9 For the Record):

A bill moving quickly through the General Assembly would make school vouchers an overnight addition to our public school system. Those who advocate for school vouchers will generally make three arguments: vouchers save money, give parents choice and help improve educational outcomes. None of these claims is true, and in many cases, the exact opposite is closer to reality.

In spite of the fact that school voucher proponents extol the nonexistent virtues of vouchers, a poll released this week shows that more than 60 percent of N.C. voters oppose them.

At their core, vouchers are about taking public money and giving it to private schools. The reason the legislature has introduced a voucher program is to save money – the bill’s author, Rep. Paul Stam, has said as much publicly. Vouchers save the state money by allowing it to pay less per-pupil – more than $3,000 less on average. In a state that ranks 48th in per pupil expenditures, don’t our children deserve better than to be educated on the cheap?

Furthermore, since vouchers are used at private schools, and private schools are allowed to do whatever they want when it comes to curriculum, teacher qualifications, discipline and even expulsion, we lose all accountability over how tax dollars are spent. The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste and abuse around the country, and there is no reason to believe these problems will not plague an N.C. system.

Imagine you receive a $4,200 check to put toward your child’s education. Sounds great – until you realize that any private school will cost more than $6,000. This is the reality in North Carolina today, with the average cost of a private school exceeding $6,000 a year in tuition, fees and transportation to and from school – and many schools cost much, much more.

This leaves low-income, and even many moderate-income, families forced to make up the difference, when the state is supposed to provide a sound education to everyone, free of charge. All of this additional cost is for an education that is unregulated and not guaranteed to be any better than the education students would have received in the public system.

These costs and potential pitfalls might almost be worth it if voucher programs showed significantly better educational outcomes. That is not the case. According to two studies by the U.S. Department of Education, there was zero impact on students’ academic performance when they took advantage of a voucher versus those students who attended a traditional public school. Zero.

Most states that have considered vouchers have ultimately rejected them for their excessive cost and negligible educational outcomes, and there is no reason to expect a different result in North Carolina. We could waste hundreds of millions of dollars in the process that would otherwise have been spent in our public school classrooms. That money is sorely needed now.

Proponents of school vouchers, and the lawmakers who support them, would be wise to invest in an educational system that enriches all of us, not just those who own and operate private schools. The dividends well-educated children will pay to us in the future will far exceed any short-term financial, or electoral, gain.

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