On December 11, 25 plaintiffs sued North Carolina over its new law granting low-income students vouchers to attend private schools if their families choose.
“No one’s saying there aren’t problems with the public schools, but the solution to making public schools stronger certainly is not taking out millions of dollars to go to these private schools,” said attorney Christine Bischoff, who oversees the Education and Law Project at the N.C. Justice Center, a sponsor of the lawsuit. The program is capped at $10 million in vouchers.
Under first-term Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the General Assembly passed “the Voucher Legislation” (Session Law 2013-360) on July 25, 2013.
In the five months since, the North Carolina Association of Educators and N.C. Justice Center have also filed a complaint against the state legislators that passed the legislation, charging the law involves an unconstitutional use of public resources.
The funds allocated for the program make up a little more than 1 percent of North Carolina’s 2012-2013 state-funded education budget of $7.7 billion. North Carolina public schools spend an average of $8,500 per student.
Starting February 1, 2014, students who are currently enrolled in a public school and have a family income under $43,568 can apply to receive a $4,200 voucher to the private school of their choice in the 2014-2015 school year.
The State Education Assistance Authority will notify parents and guardians by March 1 whether they qualify for a voucher.
History of Private Funding
Critics complain vouchers send taxpayer money to private schools taxpayers can’t directly control, and that sending taxpayer money to private entities violates the state constitution.
However, the state has administered similar programs for decades. Its preschool program, for example, allows funds to be used at a public or private facility, and state grants for higher education may be used at private or public universities.
“If it’s good enough for our pre-K program and higher education students, why isn’t it good enough for our K-12 students?” said Terry Stoops, director of education studies at North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation.
Creating Success Through Competition
The new model has received unprecedented support from minority groups. The vouchers have even won support from some teachers.
“It forces public schools to improve. The intent is to have more competition. If you don’t have an incentive, any entity is going to be less ‘customer friendly’ and less concerned about outcomes,” said Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst at the Civitas Institute.
Private schools should see more enrollment, bringing entrepreneurs to open schools and grow smaller ones, he said.
“The vast majority of children are going to continue to choose public schools,” Stoops said. “Those schools will see an uptick in funding because their students are going to be leaving the private sector for the public.”
Image by Matt Watson-Power.