Irony makes this world go ‘round and North Carolina is providing plenty of it in the form of vouchers, or as we call them, 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.
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.
Also consider the Duke University Children’s Law Center’s March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS.
It is not a stellar report if you are a proponent of vouchers in NC. Take a look at the following table and you see that schools receiving voucher money in NC do not have to abide by the same rigors that traditional public must.
Let those blank spaces sink in for a minute. The lack of oversight by itself compared to other states listed should be shocking. But this entire report is full of rather stunning observations of a program that will take almost 1 billion dollars of tax payer money after the next decade into what many outside of our state consider the most lax and enabled brand of privatization of public schools.
The entire report can be found here: https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.
But just to give you a flavor of what the Opportunity Grants have done according to one of the more respected research universities in the nation, consider the following excerpted observations:
- Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
- Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
- The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
- Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
- Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
- The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
- Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
- In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
- Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
- In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
- THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (18).
- The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).
And it is at the expense of public schools.