Editorial: Private schools receiving vouchers shouldn't get special treatment

Posted April 11, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT

School voucher generic, Opportunity Scholarship

A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, April 11, 2017; Editorial # 8146
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The lax administration of North Carolina’s private school voucher program is a startling and troublesome opportunity for the dishonest to feed at the government trough of waste, fraud and abuse.

The accountability and transparency our legislature demands of non-government agencies that receive state funding is vastly different from the negligible tracking of taxpayer money required from private schools that receive “opportunity scholarship” voucher dollars. It shouldn’t be.

When a non-government agency is awarded money in the state budget – and it doesn’t matter the amount – there is a five-page “contract” backed up by another four pages of state law and seven pages of state regulations detailing information that must be provided before it can receive a dime in taxpayer funds.

Agencies that receive $25,000 or more must provide a report on activities, accomplishments and a detailed accounting of how the money was spent. Those agencies that receive more than $500,000 must provide a program specific audit and allow state officials to examine grant-related books, records and other documents.

None of that kind of information is required from private schools that get taxpayer voucher funds. The state’s vouchers lack adequate accountability and oversight. They are among the weakest in the nation, according to a study from Duke University.  “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 from the Duke School of Law.

Only private schools receiving more than $300,000 annually in taxpayer voucher dollars must submit a financial report. That report is not a classic audit and lacks detailed information. Further, given the $300,000 threshold, this requirement only covers a small portion of the private schools currently receiving public dollars. The remaining private schools are free to spend taxpayer money completely out of the eye of the public.

It’s not just the money: Private schools getting vouchers aren’t required to provide any meaningful or comparative student performance evaluations.

N.C.’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has suggested that the current flimsy requirements are fine because the “marketplace” will hold schools accountable. “If the school’s not getting results, parents will take their children out and those schools will close,” he’s said.

That’s fine if it were just the parents’ money, but it isn’t. Each and every North Carolina taxpayer deserves accountability and transparency.

To start with, those receiving voucher funds should be required to provide, at a minimum, identical financial and program information state law requires non-profit agencies to give to the state Office of Budget and Management.

Additionally, private schools accepting vouchers should:

  • Track and disclose student performance in a way that is comparable with the tracking and disclosure of student performance for public schools.
  • Affirm that they do not have policies that discriminate against students or applicants on the basis of race, religion, gender or gender identification.
  • Employ licensed and vetted teachers and be accredited by a nationally recognized association.
  • Provide a curriculum that meets the state’s Constitutional mandate to provide, as Judge Howard Manning has ordered, “a sound basic education.”

There’s no business on the planet that would give away money the way the legislature gives it to private schools through the voucher program. What is clear, is that legislative leaders don’t care how those dollars get used, as long as it isn’t going to support public schools.

It is foolish and needs to stop. Legislators need to account for the way taxpayer money is spent, or voters should account for those legislators at the voting booth in 2018.

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR