Viewpoint

I voted for school vouchers. Now I know I was wrong.

Nariah Hunter, then 7, is shown last March with her grandmother, Janet Nunn, at Victory Christian. She was able to attend on a voucher.
Nariah Hunter, then 7, is shown last March with her grandmother, Janet Nunn, at Victory Christian. She was able to attend on a voucher. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Last July, the Thomas Fordham Institute released a study on the effectiveness of vouchers (called Opportunity Scholarships in North Carolina) in educating children in comparison to public schools. This is an organization that says on its website that its Policy Priorities are, “… policies and practices leading to a lively, accessible marketplace of high-quality education options for every young American (including charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs, and online courses)…” In short, a very pro-voucher organization.

So what did this report say that the Fordham Institute undertook, ostensibly to promote the expansion of vouchers in America? It said that vouchers have failed miserably. That’s right, a pro-voucher group had to put out a report that concluded that vouchers are failing our children. And keep in mind, this isn’t an outlier of empirical studies of vouchers’ effectiveness in educating our children. Two other recent studies (one in Indiana and another in Louisiana) came to the same conclusion.

So what does this mean for North Carolina? In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Opportunity Scholarship Act that created the voucher program for our state. (In full disclosure, I was a member of the General Assembly at that time and did vote in favor of the legislation.) Opportunity Scholarships were pitched as a way to ensure better educational outcomes for those children who may not be thriving in public schools. At the time the legislation was passed, there were little data on the effectiveness of these programs and many legislators were encouraged by the anecdotal evidence that was available.

So beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, North Carolina allocated $10 million for these vouchers. That amount has increased every school year since, and for the 2017-2018 school year, North Carolina will spend some $44.84 million for vouchers. What’s more concerning is that the amount allocated to vouchers increases each year by $10 million. That means for the 2027-2028 school year, North Carolina is scheduled to spend $144.84 million on vouchers. That’s a lot of money that North Carolina will spend supporting a voucher system that every major study has shown fails at these programs’ core purpose: providing better educational outcomes for our children. All of these studies show that vouchers have, in fact, created worse educational outcomes.

Look, I truly believe that everyone wants to make sure that our students have an exceptional educational system and positive educational outcomes. I know that when the General Assembly created the voucher program, members believed it would help create better educational outcomes. The problem is, now we have clear data that show, beyond any doubt, that these vouchers programs not only don’t help our students, they actually have worse outcomes. North Carolina is scheduled to spend over $1 billion in the next 10 years for a voucher system that simply doesn’t work. It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize this and correct course so that we can reinvest that billion dollars in public schools.

Charles Jeter is a former N.C. House member who is now government relations coordinator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

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