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“Must read” report: Damage to public schools from NC voucher programs continues to grow

[1]New report says “Opportunity Scholarship” voucher programs undermine public education, foster division, and undermine children’s development while also costing the state millions

During the 2020 legislative session at the North Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers made changes to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program that will cost the state approximately $272 million over the next 10 years, according to a new report [2] from the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project. [Editor’s note: The Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.] 

Since 2015, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program – which provides private school vouchers to children in households with low incomes – has drained limited state resources from the state’s struggling public schools, said the report. Initially, the program required eligible students to reside in families with incomes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, with eligibility increased to 246 percent in the program’s second year.

Overall, voucher programs negatively impact district budgeting by reducing availability of state funds and in turn limiting availability of state appropriations, the report said, while also raising district costs of delivering education by contributing to declining enrollment.

“For state lawmakers, the added costs of the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program will lessen funding availability for

[3]
Report author Kris Nordstrom

other state government responsibilities,” said Kris Nordstrom, Senior Policy Analyst for the Education & Law Project and author of the report. “For school district leaders, the changes will exacerbate the budget pressures caused by declining enrollment.”

This year, the General Assembly made two changes to the program that will further negatively impact state and school finances going forward:

Combined, these changes are predicted to cost the state millions into the foreseeable future.

“Financial concerns are just one negative aspect of voucher programs – even if the Opportunity Scholarship program saved the state money, there would be good reason to eliminate it,” Nordstrom said. “These programs fundamentally seek to reimagine schooling as an individualistic pursuit. Like other market-based schooling schemes, vouchers pit schools and students against each other, whereas a strong public school system recognizes and builds upon the shared benefits that a quality education imparts on students as well as the broader society.”

For one, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program subsidizes discrimination against LGBTQIA families, the report said. The voucher schools are permitted to discriminate because of religion, gender, and sexual orientation, and lawmakers have additionally failed to create a public process for students or their families to report discriminatory practices. Additionally, it is unlikely that Opportunity Scholarship voucher students are receiving a superior education in their private schools. North Carolina’s voucher schools are not required to meet any minimal standards for teacher or school quality.

“Such issues make voucher programs harmful to society. They undermine education as a shared societal goal and they foster division and hatred,” Nordstrom said. “These issues become harder to overlook when the program is also costing the state millions of dollars per year and increasing budgetary pressures on our inclusive public school districts.”

Read the full report here.  [4]