One question voucher scheme supporters never answer

By: - July 29, 2015 7:54 am


Several months ago on a public affairs television show, the host asked one of the two guests why he was opposed to the school voucher scheme that was upheld last week by the N.C Supreme Court.

The guest cited the lack of accountability in how the program spent taxpayer money and pointed out that students at some voucher schools were being taught that humans and dinosaurs co-existed and that slaves were treated well.

The host seemed taken aback and asked where in the world that was that being taught and was told that many of the roughly 700 schools eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers are fundamentalist Christian academies that use the A-Beka Book curriculum and books from Bob Jones University Press that include the inaccurate and offensive claims.

A-Beka also tells students that in some areas of the country the KKK fought a decline in morality and that gay men and lesbians have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.

The host responded that he had no idea things had gone that far.

Not many people know it, but that is one result of the head scratching decision by the N.C. Supreme Court, that thousands of children will learn wildly inaccurate versions of history and science and the taxpayers will pick up the tab.

The same court that has previously ruled that every child in North Carolina has a right to a “sound, basic education” just decided that taxpayers must fund any sort of education the parents prefer, however unsound it may be.

It is not about “school choice,” as the proponents of voucher schemes refer to it. Parents can already choose to send their kids to any school they want, no matter what the schools teach.

But why should the taxpayers of North Carolina pay to teach children wildly inaccurate and offensive information which ill prepares them for their adult lives?

It is a question voucher proponents never directly answer. The other guest on the public affairs show a few months ago simply said “well, not many of the schools use those books.” That’s not true.

Seventy percent of the schools eligible for vouchers are religious based and a large number of them are conservative fundamentalist schools that use the curriculum.

And the number of schools isn’t even the point. There are almost no requirements for schools to meet in the voucher program that is now almost certain to expand with last week’s ruling.

There no goals or guidelines for curriculum, no certification credentials or minimum education requirements for teachers. They don’t even have to undergo a criminal background check.

The voucher schools have to administer a national standardized test, but it doesn’t matter which one and it can be a test that’s not accepted as credible by the education community.

And maybe most tellingly, no test scores from voucher schools will be made public as part of the A-F grading system that is now used to evaluate public schools.

Proponents of the accountability system, the same people behind the voucher scheme, say that parents need the information to make decisions about their children’s education. Apparently, they don’t need the same information about private academies and religious schools that receive public funding.

Defenders of the vouchers don’t have much of a response to that, other than to say that parents will provide the ultimate accountability by choosing the school, the implication being that parents would never choose a school that teaches the absurd claims about science and history.

But they already are choosing those schools, and while it may be their right, why should the taxpayers support it?

There are plenty of other reasons the voucher scheme is not in the best interest of the state. It diverts taxpayer funds from traditional public schools.

The $4,200 value of the voucher is far below the tuition at many of the state’s best private schools so it will not open doors to the elite private academies for low-income students.

And there is little evidence that students at voucher schools perform better than their counterparts at traditional public schools and lot of evidence that they do worse, including in Milwaukee that has the longest running voucher program in the country.

The courts in North Carolina have made their decision, so the future of vouchers will now be determined by the political process.

Since the ruling, there have been many stories featuring individual children and their parents celebrating the decision. The well-funded pro-voucher forces have mastered the public relations game, providing adorable children as part of their defense of the sketchy scheme.

But what are those adorable kids going to be learning? And why don’t the taxpayers who are funding those schools have the right to at least a basic understanding of what their money is paying for?

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066