Do you believe that North Carolina’s public schools are beyond repair?
If you don’t, then you should be troubled by the Opportunity Scholarship Act, otherwise known as House Bill 944, a small but clear step toward deemphasizing public education and, perhaps ultimately, dismantling public schools.
The measure would spend $50 million over two years to provide low-income families $4,200 toward private school tuition. The program would be limited in its first year to students who qualify for the national school lunch program. In the second year, the program would expand to include families that earn slightly more.
Lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, say the bill offers alternatives to families whose children attend poorly performing schools. “The act will provide thousands of families who have limited opportunities a chance to make the best choice for their child,” said primary sponsor Rob Bryan of Mecklenburg on Wednesday.
But vouchers also come with a larger choice for lawmakers and the families they serve. Voucher programs ultimately take money from public schools, directly or indirectly. That’s money that not only will come out of struggling schools as they lose their students, but all schools as districts see taxpayer money reallocated by lawmakers.
The result: School systems will struggle more. Bad schools will get worse, as will good schools that face even bigger classrooms and fewer resources. If you think that public schools already are failing, that’s a good thing, because the more parents become dissatisfied with public education, the more clamoring there will be for vouchers at all income levels. If choice is good for some, then why not choice for all?
Here’s why: Private schools don’t have the same rigorous oversight as public schools. They don’t have to accept all students regardless of test scores, race, religion and other characteristics. They are accountable not to the state but to the free market. And as soon as the free market begins to rule education, then schools will be like any other product: You get what you pay for. Already, studies show very mixed educational results for low-income school voucher programs, and in some states that offer vouchers, the lack of government oversight has spawned dicey pop-up private schools.
All of which means that low-income families won’t really benefit much from vouchers. They’ll be able to afford only lower quality private schools, or they will go back to public schools weakened by a further loss of funding. That’s one more byproduct of vouchers: They give lawmakers the opportunity to take a pass on legitimate education reform. Why burden themselves with the cost and effort of making public schools better when they can give families choice and let the market sort it out?
Make no mistake – education funding in North Carolina is diminishing. Public schools are threatened, and the worse they get, the easier it will be to say they’ve failed. Some think we passed that point years ago. We don’t. N.C. public schools are far from perfect, but lawmakers should focus on fixing what’s wrong, not providing “opportunity” that’s really just a mirage.
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