Irony makes this world go ‘round and North Carolina is providing plenty of it in the form of vouchers, or as we call them in North Carolina, Opportunity Grants.
The following definitions for the word “voucher” come from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/voucher):
1: an act of vouching
2a : a piece of supporting evidence : proof
b : a documentary record of a business transaction
c : a written affidavit or authorization : certificate
d : a form or check indicating a credit against future purchases or expenditures
3: a coupon issued by government to a parent or guardian to be used to fund a child’s education in either a public or private school
How ironic is it that the first definition of the word “voucher” uses the word “proof” in it and there is no substantial evidence that the use of “vouchers” (refer to third definition above) actually even work well? Even without any “voucher” to “vouch” for the use of educational “vouchers”, the General Assembly seems hell-bent on expanding the Opportunity Grants program.
On May 31st, Sen. Phil Berger officially rolled out the senate’s budget proposal and in it has set appropriations for further funding of the Opportunity Grants, NC’s version of vouchers.
The table below is from page 64 of the actual budget proposal. It asks for a %300 increase in funds by the year 2027.
Even more ironic is that literally days before this budget was presented a new study by Mark Dynarski at the Brookings Institute spoke directly to the negative effects of vouchers. A link to the study was provided by Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/05/31/new-study-voucher-students-doing-significantly-worse-than-public-school-counterparts/). He also highlighted the Executive Summary of Dynarski’s report and it is stirring.
“Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.
Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.
That does not vouch well for vouchers, especially since North Carolina’s program has hardly had enough time to even show results that would validate such an increase in funds in the budget proposal.
The NAEP assessment that is mentioned in the Executive Summary above brings up an even more ironic twist. Why? Because irony breeds irony.
John Hood of the John William Pope Foundation and the John Locke Foundation, both of which heavily supports NC’s voucher program, actually argued that North Carolina schools are doing well. In his op-ed “North Carolina schools ranked seventh” published on Feb.15th, 2016 on EdNC.org, Hood he begins,
“North Carolina’s public schools are currently producing better results than you might think, according to a recent analysis of independent testing data.”
That independent testing data? The very same NAEP. Maybe he was cherry-picking data, but it speaks to the overall educational environment.
It has been shown that much of the money from Opportunity Grants has been used in tuition costs for small (oftentimes religious) schools who do not have to show test results unless they garner an extremely high amount of money from the voucher system. It’s like they do not even have to show growth, the very variable that lawmakers continue to hark on for public schools.
Put simply, legislation creates a moving and insanely difficult target for public schools to show proficiency that then creates a false need for vouchers to schools that do not even have to show any growth, a need so great that it will cost almost $900 million dollars in the next ten years to “fix”.
Let me repeat – almost one billion dollars on a program that has failed to show evidence of effectiveness.
But since we are vouching for the truth, the data does vouch that North Carolina’s Opportunity Grants do the following very well.
- Take away money from public schools that the state is bound to fully fund through the state constitution.
- Create a more segregated student population because private and religious based schools can discriminate against who attends and who does not.
- Make invisible people a profit. It would be very interesting to see who serves on the boards of some of these schools. In fact, it might be surprising.
Until vouchers can be shown to improve academic outcomes and the recipient schools show the same transparency with tax money as public schools school must, then Sen. Berger’s budget is simply a misappropriation of funds.