RALEIGH—North Carolina State Superintendent June Atkinson supports charter schools because the independent public schools will “not be a big competitor for our public schools,” she said in October. She doesn’t feel the same about private schools.
In August, Atkinson said her concerns about vouchers were more a principled support of public schools’ role in society than concern for how vouchers could meet individual children’s needs.
“It’s not the individual, it’s the society as a whole, where it worries me about the privatization of public education,” Atkinson said. “It’s a philosophical belief that public schools—public education—is at the core of our democracy, and is at the core of ensuring that we can prepare people to live with and work with people who are different than what one they have [sic] in a segregated environment.”
Atkinson said she worried the availability of vouchers would erode support for public schools.
“What concerns me is not that individual child, but what concerns me is as a society that we will slowly starve public education,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson made the comments during a roundtable discussion with reporters in downtown Raleigh.
New Voucher Programs
The budget Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed this year authorized $10 million for the 2014-15 school year to cover “opportunity scholarships,” or vouchers, of no more than $4,200 each that would offset the tuition costs of low-income students who want to attend private schools. The funding would cover a portion of the expenses of private schooling for roughly 2,000 students the first year; approximately 1.5 million students attend K-12 public schools in North Carolina.
Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said Atkinson’s comments are typical of the education establishment.
“That’s par for the course for someone in her position,” Stoops said. “The Department of Public Instruction is not mindful of the needs of individual students.”
Massaging the Facts
During the discussion, Atkinson handed out a chart showing recent state per-pupil expenditures in public schools dropped from $5,779 during the 2008-09 school year to $5,497 in the 2012-13 school year. She projected the state’s per-pupil spending would be $5,452 for 2013-2014.
Stoops, however, noted Atkinson’s base year—2008-09—”makes believe that there wasn’t a major recession that started in the fall of 2008.” The state accepted millions of dollars in stimulus funding from the federal government and directed much of it to the state’s public schools.
Lawmakers in recent years “did a nice job making up for the stimulus loss,” Stoops said, noting federal stimulus dollars helped pay for schools’ operating expenses for some of those years.
The state’s public school budget increased from $7.5 billion for 2012-13 to nearly $7.9 billion for the 2013-14 fiscal year, an increase of 4.8 percent.
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