Gov Roy Cooper: School vouchers are a ‘reckless waste’ of taxpayer money

Published March 13, 2024

By Greg Childress


State Superintendent Catherine Truitt (left) and Gov. Roy Cooper (right). (Photo: NC Department of Public Instruction)


Handing over billions of dollars to expand the state’s private school voucher program is a “reckless waste” of taxpayer money, Gov. Roy Cooper said on Thursday.

Cooper called for a moratorium on school vouchers until the state’s public schools are fully funded.

Under the voucher program, he said, taxpayer money is spent on private schools that aren’t required to hire licensed teachers, provide meals, transportation or services for the disabled.

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper (File Photo)


“They [private schools] don’t have to tell taxpayers what they teach, how their students perform, which students they will reject or whether students even show up at all,” Cooper said. “That is a reckless, reckless waste of taxpayer money.”

The governor made his remarks during a rare appearance at the State Board of Education. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson sat on the governor’s right. Both are staunch advocates for school choice, including private school vouchers. Robinson became the Republican nominee for governor on Tuesday and Truitt was defeated in the GOP primary for state superintendent by far-right candidate Michele Morrow.   

Cooper said the state board, state superintendent, legislature and the governor are constitutionally bound to ensure all students have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

“When we send taxpayer dollars to private schools to educate our students without any followup or accountability, we’re shirking that responsibility,” Cooper said.

Based on an analysis by the Office of State Management and Budget, public schools could lose $200 million in state funding in the first year of voucher expansion, he said.

“That’s wrong, particularly when most private schools are not better than our public,” Cooper said.

Recent studies in Louisiana show that students who used vouchers to switch to private schools went from the midpoint of performance to almost the bottom quarter  in a single year, Cooper said, and student taking vouchers in Indiana and Ohio fared worst.

Cooper said that he does not oppose private schools, but is “against taxpayer money going to private schools at the expense of public schools.”

The governor’s remarks come as families filed a record number of applications for school vouchers ahead of the March 1 deadline. The Republican-led General Assembly expanded voucher funding and income eligibility so that parents worth millions of dollars can now take advantage of the controversial program created a decade ago to help low-income families escape low-performing districts and schools

Cooper urged the state board to ask parents, business leaders, lawmakers and others to share public school successes with state lawmakers, urge them to place a moratorium on school vouchers, pay teachers like professionals and expand access to early childhood education.

Strong public schools are essential in the recruitment of businesses with high-paying jobs, he said, noting that North Carolina has been ranked the best state for business two consecutive years.

“We won’t be first in business if we become last in education,” Cooper said. “Most every CEO will tell you the value of public schools when it comes to their decision-making about where they’re going to come, where they’re going to expand, where their employees’ children are going to school and where their workforce is coming from.”

In calling on lawmakers to fully fund public schools, Cooper noted that $5 billion in federal pandemic relief money proved that providing schools with adequate resources can improve academic outcomes.

Catherine Truitt speaking into a microphone
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt – Photo: feed


He also referred to a sweeping public education improvement plan that grew out of the Leandro school funding lawsuit that began three decades ago when school districts in five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties. The courts have ordered the state to fund what is known as the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan. The plan calls for competent and well-trained teachers and principals in every school and equitable access to resources.

The North Carolina Supreme Court recently revisited the education improvement plan and is weighing whether to order the state to spend nearly $700 million to fund parts of the 10-year, $5.4 billion plan as ordered by a trial court.

Truitt noted that the education improvement plan was created before the pandemic and before public schools implemented the “science of reading,” which is a phonics-based approach to teaching young children to read that she championed.

“[The improvement plan] did not address the very specific fix that needed to be made in the way that our preservice teachers were learning to teach children to read and the way that our current teachers were teaching children to read,” Truitt said.

Since the “science of reading” implementation, Truitt said all children are experiencing double-digit gains in reading proficiency.

Academic gains across the country are flat despite increased spending on education, Truitt said.

“I know we need to spend more on education but we don’t have a roadmap to do that right now,” she said.

The state has an outdated school calendar that doesn’t serve children, teachers or parents well, geographical problems that makes it difficult to recruit high-quality teachers to rural areas and a pay system that pays teaches like it’s the 1950s, Truitt said.

“We also have a problem in that the cost of benefits for teachers has grown 79% in North Carolina since 2002 and I don’t know how we’re going to solve that problem,” Truitt said, adding that it cost $60 million to increase teacher pay by 1%.”

The comprehensive remedial plan is not going to get the state where it needs to be, the superintendent insisted.

“It will be up to this board to figure out what the roadmap is because if we’re going to invest more money, and if we’re going to make our public schools the best they can be, so it’s not just a sound basic education but an incredible public education, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, we’re going to have to do better with a plan for how we’re going to spend that money,” Truitt said.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis agreed that the comprehensive plan needs updating.

“We’ll continue to advocate for more funding for our students and we’ll continue to use the money that we have wisely and to look for ways to use it more effectively than what we are now,” Davis said.