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School choice groups fire back over criticism of another voucher expansion

Accountability is a slippery word to the leadership of the N.C. General Assembly.

Republican legislators in the House and Senate oft crow about the need for accountability — financially and academically — in North Carolina’s traditional public schools. Of course, nobody really disagrees, although there’s something terribly galling about the relative lack of either for North Carolina’s incredible expanding private school voucher program.

The Capitol Broadcasting Corp., WRAL’s parent company, offered an editorial on voucher accountability last week, following the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that only loosens voucher restrictions further, and now school choice advocates are fired up.

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, issued a scathing statement Monday, slamming CBC for the piece.

From Long’s statement:

OUR money.

Those are the words of the Capitol Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) latest attack on North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program currently enables over 9,600 students from low-income and working-class families in North Carolina to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.

These families are taxpayers, too. But CBC is protecting systems and the status quo, playing politics, and demonizing educational choice.

Here is the downright disrespectful and harmful language used by CBC’s editorial board in full:

If these parents were spending their own money, Clark might have a case. But these parents are not spending their own money, it is OUR money, tens of millions of dollars’ worth. We not only have the right, we have the responsibility to be sure that OUR tax dollars are being spent as intended – to educate North Carolina children.

“Our money” is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to turn one group of people—those of us paying taxes but not using a “scary” voucher—against another group of people—those of us paying taxes who use an Opportunity Scholarship.

Even Governor Roy Cooper says Opportunity Scholarships are “an expense that we should stop” while talking about investing more in education. Apparently to the governor, poor and working-class families are nothing more than “an expense.”

Divide and conquer is his plan, pitting those families against the state that thinks it knows best where parents should send their kids to school.

The governor and CBC are demanding that “our money” shouldn’t be allocated to “these parents” unless the state controls every penny, regardless of the accountability requirements already in place, the positive impacts schools of choice have on their students, and the overwhelming support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the parents using it.

Thousands of families on the Opportunity Scholarship Program (taxpayers, mind you) dig into their own pockets every month to cover what’s left in tuition and fees after the Opportunity Scholarship has provided them a much-needed boost. Yet, there is a real disconnect when CBC questions if “these parents were spending their own money.”

Rhetoric aside, North Carolina lacks sufficient evidence that the expanding private school program — lawmakers built in millions in additional funding each year — works. That says nothing about the relative lack of transparency and anti-discrimination protection in private schools, most of which are religious-based.

At a time when North Carolina teachers are marching en masse to Raleigh, demanding additional funding, legislators would spend millions on the program.  Legislators should shelve the voucher gimmick or delay their expansions, at least until there is credible evidence that the program is effective.

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