Republican House lawmakers successfully banded together Tuesday morning in an effort to block a proposal put forward by school voucher champion Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam that would have set up the state’s new school voucher program for expansion.

Stam gutted and amended S456 to require the state to award more Opportunity Scholarships (also known as school vouchers) to kindergartners and first graders—a move that would increase waiting lists for the $4,200 scholarships that allow families to use tax dollars for tuition at private schools, many of which are religious and none of which are subject to rigorous oversight and accountability standards.

Stam told fellow lawmakers that the program has had “way more applicants for K-1 than they can handle under the existing limitation that it be no more than 35 percent” and indicated that without the change in law, the program might not be able to spend all funds this year. The change would allow more students to get vouchers in the short term, and, with longer waiting lists, demonstrate increased demand that would serve as justification for the program’s expansion in the long run.

Rep. Bryan Holloway (R-Stokes) kicked off opposition to Stam’s proposal, saying he’s not yet seen results indicating whether or not the school voucher program works in favor the low-income students it purports to help.

“Why not just move forward, come back next year, see these kids’ test scores?” said Rep. Holloway. “Look at the data. Look at the schools these kids pick. Let’s look at the data before we do this.”

Rep. Linda Johnson echoed Holloway’s sentiments, saying “we continue to put money [into school vouchers], but we don’t have any results yet.”

The Opportunity Scholarship program is moving into its second year of existence. During its inaugural 2014-15 year, the program moved forward while the state Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of sending public dollars to private, religious schools that are subject to very little oversight by the state. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the program did not violate the state’s constitution, allowing it to continue.

Lawmakers voted to expand the voucher program considerably over the next two years, upping it from $11 million to $17.5 million next year and $24 million the following year.

Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Smithfield) told the committee a private school in his district that accepted school vouchers didn’t seem fit for accepting tax dollars.

“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”

Stam’s proposal was narrowly defeated in the House appropriations committee, 24-26, after a careful count of the ayes and noes.


Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan, whose open letter critiquing a legislative plan to turn struggling public schools over to for-profit charter school operators got a great deal of deserved attention last month, has penned another “must read.” This one is a detailed and lengthy response to a recent essay by State Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County in which Hardister attempted to argue that the state’s conservative political leadership has not been waging “a war on public education.”

After debunking several of Hardister’s claims about education spending (which, as Egan notes, continues to fall when one accounts for enrollment growth), Egan offers the following list of recent state actions vis a vis public schools:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools.
  • The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.
  • The engagement with profit-motivated companies and no-bid contracts with entities like Pearson that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed.

All in all, Egan’s essay is a powerful, if sobering, read. Click here to read it in its entirety.


Voucher-mailer-front and backThe push to get folks to sign up for North Carolina’s controversial school voucher program — now ruled constitutional by the state’s highest court — is back on with new mailers and a video encouraging parents to get a private school education for their child at the taxpayer’s expense as lawmakers consider expanding the program nearly two-fold for the upcoming year.

“NC Supreme Court rules YES! for OPPORTUNITY!” headlines a mailer sent out by school voucher proponent Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC), an organization dedicated to pushing school privatization efforts and bankrolled largely by the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart).

Directing parents to a website with their own name in the URL, families can use the mailers to look up whether or not they are eligible to receive $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to use for private school tuition. The website includes a video of former NBA All Star and Tar Heel basketball player Antawn Jamison endorsing the program.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled last month to uphold the Opportunity Scholarship program, in spite of the fact that private schools have virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

The move reversed a 2014 ruling finding the program to be unconstitutional. “The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood wrote at the time.

Those private schools, the majority of which are religious but can also include home schools that have just one student, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.

Now, parents are free to use state funds to send their children to private schools — and the school voucher program is likely to expand.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million in taxpayer dollars to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships beginning in 2014. The House’s 2015-17 budget proposal passed earlier this summer proposes expanding the school voucher program from $10 million to $17.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Senate’s proposal does the same as the House, but with recurring funds instead and for both years of the biennium.

With House and Senate lawmakers still hammering away behind closed doors at a 2015-17 final budget, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the program could be expanded even further — stay tuned.


Last week’s ruling that North Carolina tax dollars may be used to support private schools with literally no standards of accountability at all has generated some scathing editorials from the state’s major newspapers. Here are a few excerpts:

From Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“It is distressing on its face, this idea that public money can go toward the expenses of private schooling. It crosses the divide between public and private, between church and state, between common sense and partisan ideology.

And yet, in a ruling with a clear partisan flavor, the North Carolina Supreme Court, having snatched the confrontation over a school voucher program out of the hands of the N.C. Court of Appeals where it should properly have gone, has upheld the Republican legislature’s voucher program. This is a devastating ruling for the future of public education.”

From the Greensboro News & Record:

“In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court unanimously delivered its landmark Leandro ruling that declared the state has an obligation to offer every child a “sound, basic education.”

In a 4-3 decision Thursday, the court regrettably took a big step back from that principle, finding that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional.”

From the Fayetteville Observer (after noting that it does not oppose vouchers):

“That said, we do have a deep concern about the lack of accountability in the voucher program, an issue raised in Justice Robin Hudson’s dissent. ‘The main constitutional flaw in this program,’ she wrote, ‘is that it provides no framework at all for evaluating any of the participating schools’ contribution to public purposes; such a huge omission is a constitutional black hole into which the entire program should disappear.’

The investment of tax dollars must be accompanied by accountability. The General Assembly needs to remedy that problem. If it does, we expect the voucher program to improve the lot of some students who otherwise might fall into the cracks and never see success.”

Stay tuned. There will be lots more like this to come.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that public dollars can be used for vouchers that allow low-income children to attend private schools in North Carolina, in a ruling released late Thursday afternoon.

That will mean that funding will continue for the voucher program this upcoming school year.

In the 55-page opinion released late Thursday afternoon, N.C. Chief Justice Mark Martin said that the legislation creating the vouchers did not overtly counter the state’s constitution, and therefore the court could not rule the program unconstitutional.

“Our constitutionally assigned role is limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution,” Martin wrote. “Because no prohibition in the constitution or in our precedent forecloses the General Assembly’s enactment of the challenged legislation here, the trial court’s order declaring the legislation unconstitutional is reversed.”

You can read the full decision, including the dissents, here.

Opponents of the measure had argued that the private school vouchers drain needed resources for public schools, and that it violated the state constitution to send public money to unaccountable private schools that are often religious in nature and can pick and choose (or discriminate against) their students.

Proponents, on the other hand, said the “opportunity scholarships” offered a needed educational choice to poor families unable to afford private schooling on their own.

For background, read this excerpt from an earlier article from N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey:

In December 2013, groups that included taxpayers and the state and local school boards filed two separate lawsuits, alleging that the law violates state constitutional provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds exclusively for public schools, and contending that a voucher program wholly devoid of standards fails to meet the state’s obligation to provide all children with a “sound basic education” and thus does not satisfy the constitution’s “public purpose” provision.

[Superior Court]Judge Hobgood agreed with the challengers and temporarily blocked implementation of the program this past August, but state appellate courts later allowed monies to flow to families already approved for vouchers for the current school year while the cases proceeded in the courts.

The Supreme Court has likewise allowed the application process for vouchers next year to move forward while it considers the appeal.