Editorial: Twisting the truth won't make private school voucher program accountable

Posted April 10, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, April 10, 2019; Editorial #8410
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

If the truth doesn’t matter, North Carolinians might be alarmed by a recent news release from state Senate leader Phil Berger’s office ominously warning of perceived threats to funding for private school vouchers.

If the truth DOES matter, this news release is indeed alarming and troublesome.

The twisted logic and fractured use of facts is worthy of the work of Cold War-era Soviet propaganda operations. Don’t take our word for it. Read it HERE.

Under a chilling headline, “Senate Democrats File Bill to Cut Funding for Opportunity Scholarships,” the release warns that legislation will “siphon money” away from scholarship for poor students to attend private schools. Instead, the money will go to the “largest and wealthiest school districts” in the state.

“This bill creates a situation where we steal from the poor and give to the rich,” the release quotes state Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga.

Here is the truth. No one in North Carolina – not a single child -- who qualified for the so-called “Opportunity Scholarship” private school vouchers, has been denied a dime. In fact, in the current school year, of the $54.84 million available for the vouchers, $35.56 million has been obligated. More than a third of the money won’t get used to help educate anyone.

While the legislature built in an automatic $10 million annual increase in voucher funding, the amount spent this year was EVEN LESS than the total allotment -- $44.84 million last year. Last year more than a third of the money set aside went unused.

Tens of millions of dollars meant for education sit idle. All this is at a time when legislative leaders, who granted state corporations billions in unnecessary tax cuts, say there isn’t the money to increase public school funding as basic needs remain chronically unmet.

Rather than seeking to deprive North Carolina’s school children of much needed support, the bill introduced by Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg; Sam Searcy, D-Wake; Wiley Nickel, D-Wake; aims to make sure these critical education dollars don’t sit idle but are used to help students in North Carolina’s public schools.

They DO NOT PROPOSE cutting funding for private school vouchers, rather eliminating the automatic increases – money that isn’t needed for the vouchers.

With the proposed legislation, North Carolina taxpayers will have a better idea of how their education tax dollars are spent. The money will go for construction projects at public schools which by law are required to show how the funds are spent and also demonstrate whether students are learning in their classrooms.

Despite Sen. Ballard’s claim in the release that she is “committed to ensure all our kids receive the chance to reach their full potential” there’s no way she can possibly know if voucher kids are fulfilling their potential.

That’s because there is an irresponsible lack of transparency and accountability demanded from schools that are receiving voucher funds. These private schools have no requirement to show the money goes to provide classroom instruction, books or supplies. These schools do not even have to show that the kids receiving scholarships even show up for class.

Twisting the truth doesn’t make private school vouchers a more worthy government program. Allowing the program to become a slush fund where tens of millions of education tax dollars sit idle is irresponsible.

If Phil Berger and his fellow legislative leaders truly cared about the state’s school children and accountability, they would praise and thank Marcus, Searcy and Nickel for their diligence and concern. They’d also apologize for their misdirected scorn and mockery.

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