Transform NC's private school vouchers from boondoggle to responsible, transparent, accountable

Published September 6, 2023

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

Six recommendations will help assure parents, educators and taxpayers that public money granted to private schools is being used as intended and that students are in classrooms where they receive a quality education - as should EVERY North Carolina child.

Some facts about North Carolina’s taxpayer funding of private school vouchers.

  • It is a program that has largely helped white students and not minorities. The portion of “Opportunity Scholarship” vouchers going to Black students has decreased every year since the program was initiated in the 2014-15 school year – from 51% then to 20% for the 2022-23 school year.
  • The portion of vouchers going to white students has increased every year over that same period from 27% to 61%.
  • Funding for private school vouchers has increased from $10.8 million to $176.5million. Actual allocations have gone from $4.6 million to $133.9 million. Last year $44.6 million education dollars gathered dust in the state treasury while public school teachers were spending their own money for basic classroom supplies for their students, poorly paid school bus drivers were quitting in droves and school facility renovations and upgrades were left unaddressed.

The leaders of the General Assembly are poised to more than double the money available for private school vouchers to nearly half-a-billion dollars – and enshrine that increased expansion every year through the 2031-32 school year. Such expansive spending should be similarly enshrined with the kind of accountability to help parents and taxpayers know the money is used for educating children in quality schools, focused on classroom education resources and that students are achieving.

Some facts taxpayers should know -- but don’t because legislative leaders refuse to require the data and accountability from private schools that receive vouchers.

How is the voucher money being used? Is it spent to educate students in the classroom?

Are students actually attending classes?

Are students learning?

Do all students have the opportunity to attend schools of their choice with vouchers?

These concerns are not about support or opposition to private school vouchers. They are not about diversionary slogans like “parental choice.” They are about being responsible, accountable and transparent with the use of taxpayer dollars. It is not unreasonable to expect those who accept public funds – including private school vouchers – demonstrate to taxpayers their money is being used as expected and is having the intended impact.

Before we go on, we must make note that it is the obligation of the legislature – as set out in North Carolina’s Constitution – to support a system of public schools that provides EVERY child with access to a quality education. Further, it has been repeatedly adjudicated over the last 25 years that the state has failed to meet this obligation. While courts have ordered implementation of a consensus plan to rectify this tragic situation, the legislature has been obstinate in its refusal to implement it. Private school vouchers DO NOT address or remedy this continued failure to meet the state constitutional obligation to North Carolina’s children.

In a detailed and thoughtful review of the latest plans for private school voucher expansion, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has come up with six common sense recommendations – not the least bit onerous on private schools – to demonstrate accountability and provide transparency.

“Similar to public schools and public charter schools, private schools that receive public dollars must be held accountable to the taxpayers who fund them. Additionally, parents must have access to accurate and reliable information when making school choice decisions, and state leaders must have the data needed to effectively evaluate how private schools receiving public funds are performing and to ensure that all children are receiving a sound basic education,” is the common-sense imperative for the Forum’s report and recommendations.

Schools that accept vouchers must:

  1. Be accredited by the state Board of Education or another accreditation agency from an approved list to assure there is tuition and fee transparency, a clearly stated admissions policy and a non-discrimination policy.
  2. Administer and publicly report data on state assessments of student achievement and performance as required by the State Board of Education. Test results meet federal requirements to allow comparisons across student subgroups so that the scores of students receiving vouchers can be compared to public and other students.
  3. Use curriculum that align with the state Standard Course of Study and provide the same amount of instructional time required of public schools.
  4. Meet a set of basic requirements for employees, including: All employees undergo a federal background check and; All administrators and classroom teachers meet state certification and other requirements.
  5. Accurately compile and report data on student enrollment similar to public school reporting.
  6. Be subject to financial review and audits so they are eld to the same financial reporting requirements as other private non-profit organizations that receive taxpayer funding as well as other publicly supported schools.

There is nothing onerous or difficult in these recommendations. They will help assure parents, educators and taxpayers that public money is being used as intended and that students are in classrooms where they receive a quality education – as should EVERY North Carolina child.