Dear PEFNC, Whether It’s “Our Money” or “Your Money,” There is No Proof That Vouchers Are Working

Last Friday, WRAL posted an editorial board opinion on its website entitled “Editorial: Private school vouchers to be even more open to corruption, waste.

It stated,

Let us be clear, we DO NOT oppose private school vouchers. We DO strongly believe there should be reasonable and responsible accountability and transparency in how these tax dollars are spent. It is tragically lacking today. The new Senate-passed bill makes it worse. It is an invitation to corruption and waste.

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As the state Senate voted to expand eligibility for the voucher program – mostly because a good chunk of the millions set aside for the program has been going unclaimed – the House of Representatives budget weakens what is already the least accountable private school voucher program in the nation.

The budget bill withdraws the very limited required testing to track students’ achievement. Some of the money intended for paying for private school tuition can now be diverted to marketing – by a non-profit organization with close ties to the legislature’s leadership. The annual third-party evaluation of the program would be ended.

What the op-ed is talking about mostly is transparency and it is CORRECT in doubting the intentions of the people in the NCGA who promote it.

Apparently Mike Long, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, did not take WRAL’s op-ed well. And according to a report from NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball, Long issued a rebuttal.

“OUR money.

Those are the words of the Capitol Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) latest attack on North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program currently enables over 9,600 students from low-income and working-class families in North Carolina to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.

These families are taxpayers, too. But CBC is protecting systems and the status quo, playing politics, and demonizing educational choice.

Here is the downright disrespectful and harmful language used by CBC’s editorial board in full:

If these parents were spending their own money, Clark might have a case. But these parents are not spending their own money, it is OUR money, tens of millions of dollars’ worth. We not only have the right, we have the responsibility to be sure that OUR tax dollars are being spent as intended – to educate North Carolina children.

“Our money” is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to turn one group of people—those of us paying taxes but not using a “scary” voucher—against another group of people—those of us paying taxes who use an Opportunity Scholarship.

Even Governor Roy Cooper says Opportunity Scholarships are “an expense that we should stop” while talking about investing more in education. Apparently to the governor, poor and working-class families are nothing more than “an expense.”

Divide and conquer is his plan, pitting those families against the state that thinks it knows best where parents should send their kids to school.

The governor and CBC are demanding that “our money” shouldn’t be allocated to “these parents” unless the state controls every penny, regardless of the accountability requirements already in place, the positive impacts schools of choice have on their students, and the overwhelming support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the parents using it.

Thousands of families on the Opportunity Scholarship Program (taxpayers, mind you) dig into their own pockets every month to cover what’s left in tuition and fees after the Opportunity Scholarship has provided them a much-needed boost. Yet, there is a real disconnect when CBC questions if “these parents were spending their own money.”

That rebuttal deserves a rebuttal.

Long’s rebuke actually reaffirms the concerns that WRAL’s editorial board brings up in their op-ed about the lack of transparency and ultimate intent in the NCGA’s Opportunity Grants.

There has never been any empirical evidence that the vouchers actually work. Maybe PEFNC would like to point to NC State’s study last year, but that study ultimately did not make conclusions on the veracity of the vouchers. In fact, it said that the Opportunity Grants need much more research as it is hard to assess the program.

Or they might point to “satisfaction surveys” like Joel Ford of PEFNC did in an op-ed on EdNC.org. If that is the only variable by which they can measure the effectiveness of the grants, then that is absolutely weak.

Long also states, ” Thousands of families on the Opportunity Scholarship Program (taxpayers, mind you) dig into their own pockets every month to cover what’s left in tuition and fees after the Opportunity Scholarship has provided them a much-needed boost.” 

Opportunity Grants are for $4200. First, it makes one want to have a list of highly rated private schools and their tuition fees because that amount of money will not even cover a third of costs at a respected school for one school year let alone supplies and books. And Long even says that these  families have to dig into their own pockets every month to cover other expenses.

What he is saying is that giving money to people to send their students to private schools causes them to spend more of their own limited funds to help make that happen when the money could have gone to the very public schools that already serve them and are free for them to attend. Doesn’t that seem odd?

But it’s all about school choice – so much that people like Long and other lawmakers will sacrifice revealing the truth about the lack evidence of success with the appearance of a moral high road and empty rhetoric.

And Long spends a lot of time talking about “taxpayer money.” Of the schools in NC that receive vouchers, over 90% of them are religious schools. In fact, the top ten “voucher” schools in NC are all religiously affiliated.

From page 8 of the Public School Forum of NC’s report Top Ten Education Issues of 2018:

voucher schools

Churches and religious organizations are generally exempt from income taxes or “business” taxes. But many of them are receiving “our tax money” to benefit their non transparent use of curriculum that may not even align to state standards.

Wonder if Long sees a double standard there.

WRAL did.