Editorial: Voucher advocate's claims of success, accountability are unfounded and premature

Posted May 23, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated May 23, 2017 5:50 a.m. EDT

A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, May 23, 2017; Editorial # 8164
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

North Carolina’s legislative leaders keep wanting to spend millions, and millions more, on the “Opportunity Scholarships” private school voucher program, but they don’t seem to care if this taxpayer money is being spent properly or if it is achieving anything to help students learn.

In reality, it is highly speculative, high risk spending set to increase from $24.8 million this year to $134 million in a decade. How can anyone believe legislators who allow this are responsible stewards of the public trust?

Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, and the chief lobbyist for vouchers, claims in a widely distributed commentary, that the program is already a success, but doesn’t back it with facts. Are taxpayers supposed to take his word?

Allison seems to be happy with anecdotal comments from parents. There is a problem with such an approach. It's not the parent’s money -- it is taxpayer money. And at the very least, taxpayers deserve to know: Are the schools accredited?  Are the teachers licensed?  How do students rate on recognized achievement tests?

Three key issues raised by Allison’s commentary must be addressed before the legislature authorizes another voucher dime:

  • Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent. Why aren’t there any rules or regulations that require private schools taking taxpayer vouchers to disclose basic information about how they are run and how the money they get is spent – just like public and charter schools?
  • Taxpayers deserve to know their money is being spent wisely and is getting intended results. Why don’t private schools that take taxpayer vouchers have to report the content of their curriculum and academic achievement of students with the same evaluation and testing required in charter and public schools?
  • Taxpayers need to know their money is being spent in lawful ways. Why is it proper for schools that take taxpayer vouchers to have policies against admitting some students based on religion, sexual orientation and race? Since when is taxpayer-funded discrimination legal?

A promised analysis of the voucher program to be conducted by researchers at N.C. State University is so severely limited it will be foolish for anyone to make sweeping or definitive conclusions to justify the program.

Allison’s claim that “we’ll soon have further confirmation that it’s (the private school voucher program) accountable” is just plain wrong; the N.C. State study is not set up to provide that type of conclusion.

North Carolina taxpayers deserve straightforward answers to the basic questions we’ve asked about the conduct of the voucher program. There should be credible annual reports to determine if the dollars are being spent as intended and annual studies that track student achievement and performance.

Religious schools get about 95% of the voucher funds. Is that why legislative leaders are in a “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t want to know” mode?

Unless the General Assembly takes specific action to demand accountability, North Carolina taxpayers will spend tens of millions without any notion of how it is being spent, whether these schools are open to all students and whether the students are actually getting an education.

The time to do that is now.

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