If a handful of right-wing legislators have their way, taxpayers in North Carolina may soon be spending $125 million a year funding private and fundamentalist religious schools that can refuse to admit gay or transgender students—or even students with gay parents.
That’s one of the many troubling features of the state’s school voucher scheme, misleadingly named the opportunity scholarship program that provides $4,200 vouchers to private academies and religious schools to pay for the education of low and moderate income students who apply to participate.
The state has currently $12 million of public money available for private schools with virtually no accountability measures in place to guarantee or even monitor the quality of education the children are receiving. A bill filed this week at the General Assembly would increase that funding every year until it reaches $125 million a year in ten years.
More than 90 percent of the private schools who receive taxpayer funds through the voucher scheme are religious and the bulk of those are conservative fundamentalist schools, many of which use the A-Beka Book curriculum and books from Bob Jones University Press.
Those books say that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, that slaves were treated well, and that gay men and lesbians have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.
Billy Ball at NC Policy Watch reported earlier this year that one school that qualifies to receive the taxpayer-funded vouchers, Lee Christian in Sanford, requires students and parents to sign a “lifestyle statement and covenant” agreeing that “gender confusion” reflects a state of depravity and that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are “sinful and immoral.”
Ball also reported that officials with the N.C. School Boards Association have identified private schools across the state that openly discriminate against students and families despite receiving public funding, putting gay parents in the position of having their tax dollars paying for schools that have a policy of refusing admission to their children.
The voucher schools do not have to adopt any specific education goals to receive voucher money and there are no guidelines for the curriculum that is taught. There are no certification credentials or minimum education requirements for teachers who are not even required to undergo a criminal background check.
The voucher schools do have to administer a national standardized test, but it doesn’t matter which one and the school is not required to report those results to the state unless it has a certain number of voucher students.
Voucher schools are also not part of the A-F grading system that is now used to evaluate public schools based on test scores, even though many voucher supporters in the General Assembly are also the leading voices for the accountability system.
Apparently, parents only need to know how public schools are doing, not the private schools they are also funding.
Voucher supporters answer almost every question about the shocking lack of accountability at the taxpayer supported religious schools by saying that parents provide it by choosing the school for their children.
But what about parents who were already choosing the schools using the A-Beka books? Should be the state be paying to teach children things are wrong or even offensive?
And should taxpayers be funding schools that openly discriminate against children and families based on sexual orientation or gender identity?
Gov. Pat McCrory keeps claiming, as part of his rambling defense of HB2, that he doesn’t support discrimination. But the budgets he has signed in the last few years have sent millions of dollars to private schools that have in their policies the intent to discriminate against LGBT children and parents.
It’s past time for a long, careful look at the troubling voucher scheme in North Carolina. And given the blatant discrimination that currently infects it, expanding it now might best be described as sinful and immoral.