Many public school advocates, especially the teacher who writes this blog, have argued that the Opportunity Grants are a detriment to public schools in that it takes public money meant for public schools and gives it to private, unregulated entities which can practice admission standards that would never be allowed in public schools and can offer curricula that is not aligned with preparing students for 21st success.
It also strikes this teacher that 93% of vouchers used in NC when a 2017 Duke study was published went to entities that are affiliated with churches and are possibly housed within churches that do not have to give tax dollars due to religious exemptions.
And don’t forget that we as a state are expanding vouchers by $10 million year until the year 2026-2027.
By that time we will have spent over $900 million dollars on vouchers in North Carolina in a system that is considered the least transparent in the entire country.
Last summer the Charlotte Observer carried an op-ed penned by the interim president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) Brian Jodice entitled “Public money for private school scholarships is working, and will soon expand dramatically”.
Jodice’s reference to that 2018 NC State study is probably the biggest indicator that what he pins his hope upon to verify the validity of the voucher program is not stable at all. And it should not be worthy of praise because he deliberately misspeaks what the conclusion of that study was.
“Early academic evaluation is encouraging. In June, independent researchers from NC State University released findings from the first-ever academic analysis of the program, revealing “large, positive impacts” on student achievement associated with using a scholarship. Follow-up studies are needed, but this early report card represents very good news.”
Even the people who conducted the study cautioned against drawing conclusions. This is from WUNC .
That sample they used? Over half were from established Catholic schools in NC which represent in reality a very small percentage of the voucher recipient pool. In fact, that study has been attacked so much from non-academics that it begs to ask why it was done in the first place. That’s how many holes it has.
And of the money that was allocated this past year to the vouchers, almost half was not used.
This past April, former legislator Joel Ford penned a rather disappointing op-ed about NC’s voucher system called “Disappointed.” As a board member of PEFNC, he is charged with always presenting the Opportunity Grants in a positive light. His variable that vouchers in NC are working? Satisfaction surveys.
And it’s clear that these families are happy with their choice. A new survey from Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) of nearly 1,500 scholarship recipients showed that 97 percent are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the program. That’s why I’ll keep fighting for families like these as a board member of PEFNC.
He presented no other variable of measure for the “success” of the vouchers than “satisfaction.” No scores. No data.
If satisfaction is a variable by which we should measure schools, then we as a state should change the entire school performance grading system. And the opposite of “satisfied” is “unsatisfied” which would also be a measurable in the Joel Ford system of validity.
And there is a lot of “unsatisfaction” from teachers and public school advocates concerning the NCGA which, by the way, finances the Opportunity Grants and is taking steps to make the voucher system in North Carolina even LESS TRANSPARENT.
Lindsay Wagner from the NC Public School Forum summed up the latest NC House proposals for the voucher system in a recent report posted by NC Policy Watch. In it she states,
The House budget includes a few other proposed changes to the Opportunity Scholarship Program that raise concern:
- Would enable unspent voucher dollars to be redirected to a nonprofit organization for marketing and advertising to promote the voucher program ($500,000);
- Would enable unspent voucher dollars to be redirected to the Division of Nonpublic Education for data collection from nonpublic schools and to maintain a web site to provide information to students and parents to assist them in the selection of private schools;
- Strikes language that currently requires the agency overseeing school vouchers to file annual reports with the General Assembly and the Department of Public Instruction that detail the learning gains or losses of students receiving vouchers, and the competitive effects on public school performance on standardized tests as a result of the voucher program; and
- Eliminates a third party evaluation of the program intended to produce annual reports.
And she ends with this poignant observation,
The lack of transparency and accountability for publicly-funded private schools is a real head scratcher when you consider how closely the state scrutinizes public schools. The General Assembly sets the precise date that all public schools must start and end the school year, and the number of instructional hours each year must include. The state created and mandates dozens of standardized tests starting as early as pre-K, the results all publicly reported. The finances and academic outcomes of public schools are held to a very high standard by state leaders every day, and at a time when public school state investments fall well short of where they were a decade ago, when adjusted for inflation and student growth. Yet for some reason, we don’t expect the same for our private schools, in which we are investing more and more state dollars in the name of better educational options. It’s past time that North Carolina does better — families and taxpayers have a right to know.
What Wagner does (and others have voiced) is show the hypocrisy of the North Carolina General Assembly when it pertains to fully funding public schools: it will give money to a program shrouded in secrecy and not truly measured while underfunding the very institution it constitutionally should maintain while scrutinizing any and every variable that comes to mind.
And that should end.