Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Cooper and Duke U. Report expose need for voucher transparency

Posted March 8

Opportunity Scholarship

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, March 8, 2017; Editorial # 8132
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It isn’t the biggest item in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal but it will certainly be contentious – doing away with the “Opportunity Scholarship” private school voucher program after the next school year.

So far this year the program, a pet project of legislative leaders, has provided support for 5,533 students and distributed more than $19.5 million to private schools in the state. But Cooper recognizes that there’s no way of knowing if these students are learning or if the schools are using the taxpayer dollars they receive appropriately. That isn’t a wise use of tax dollars.

The governor isn’t alone in his concern. A report just issued by the Children’s Law Clinic at the Duke University School of Law, concluded that accountability in the state’s voucher program is among the “weakest in the country” and “poorly designed … to promote better academic outcomes for children.”

“The schools need not be accredited, adhere to state curricular or graduation standards, employ licensed teachers, or administer state End-of-Grade tests,” according to the report. If that were said of one of North Carolina’s public or charter schools, our legislators would be up in arms – demanding transparency and accountability.

“North Carolina’s voucher program is serving the purpose of providing some low-income families the choice to obtain a religious education for their children. It does not appear to be serving the purpose of producing better academic outcomes for those students,” the report concludes.

North Carolina’s “Opportunity Scholarship” program is poorly conceived and badly executed. Sending private schools tax dollars with almost no accountability or transparency is an invitation for abuse and waste.

This voucher program is barely three years old, but already the state’s largest recipient of the opportunity scholarships is embroiled in controversy. Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, is in the midst of a scandal concerning allegations that the basketball coach embezzled more than $388,400 that was supposed to pay for employee withholding taxes.

Eligibility for vouchers doesn’t include the standards that most public and private schools adhere to including: accreditation, disclosure of finances, sharing student performance data, acknowledgement of non-discrimination policies in admissions and the like.

That the legislature doesn’t require any of this is astonishing and irresponsible. These are the same folks who preach that government needs to operate like a business. But if any business ran like our legislators run their private school voucher program, they would likely be in bankruptcy court.

We cannot imagine that most legislators would spend their own money in this way. So, what is it that makes them think they can spend other peoples’ money – the taxpayers – with no accountability?

If legislators truly want to reform education for the better, they will embrace Cooper’s budget proposal to end the irresponsible voucher program – or at a minimum apply some reasonable standards of accountability and transparency to determine how the publics' money is being spent.

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