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School-vouchersIf you still harbor any doubts about what the American far right has in mind when it comes to the future of public education, there’s a helpful reminder in Texas right now where ideologues are seriously advancing a new proposal to commence the process of doing away with it. As public schools champion Diane Ravitch points out his morning on her blog, the latest voucher proposal under consideration in the Lone Star state appears to be a truly a frightening mess.

Ravitch points readers to a recent and critical op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Republican politico Chris Ladd (a fellow who, rather remarkably, writes under the moniker “GOP Lifer”) in which he describes the proposal that would both allow vouchers and a new and parallel funding scheme whereby some taxpayers could simply earmark their taxes to fund private schools. Here’s Ladd:

“These two bills would not merely privatize schools. They would privatize the school funding system as well, creating an entire parallel world free from the liberal horrors of a real education infrastructure. Taxpayers could simply exit the existing public school funding system in favor of their own private school funding entities which they control entirely…. Read More

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In case you missed it the other day, Asheville writer Martin Dyckman published an excellent essay in the Asheville Citizen-Times that explained the real deal with North Carolina’s toxic and troubling school vouchers program. As Dyckman explained, after describing a push poll/robocall he received from the voucher champions at the Pope-Civitas Institute:

“Two days later, Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), the Godfather of vouchers, staged an elaborate press conference to say he wants a fourfold expansion of the program, which costs $10.8 million a year.

Stam didn’t propose abandoning income limits, although they’re scheduled to rise to 133 percent of poverty this year.

But the Civitas robopoll makes it obvious where the camel’s nose is heading.

That’s if the Supreme Court overturns a Superior Court decision that the program is flagrantly unconstitutional.

The pretext for the vouchers is to entitle poor kids to a good private education on the same terms as their more privileged peers.

That’s a fallacy if not a fraud. At $4,200, the maximum voucher is worth only a fraction of what quality private schools often charge; they’re beyond the reach of low-income families despite the subsidy. The public schools budget twice as much per student.”

After citing some N.C. Policy Watch reporting on the religious schools that have been raking in the voucher dough, Dyckman concludes this way:

“This is as flagrant a misuse of public money as it would be to pay the church’s pastor out of the state treasury. Read More

Commentary

Be sure to check out Sharon McCloskey’s excellent story over on the main Policy Watch site this morning summarizing yesterday’s state Supreme Court argument in the school voucher case. You’ll get the history, the basics of the arguments and a blow by blow of yesterday’s proceedings.

If you want to grasp what is perhaps the essence of the plaintiff’s challenge, however, check out the following excerpt that Sharon quoted from the argument of the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Raleigh civil rights attorney Burton Craige:

“North Carolina’s voucher program is unique. No other voucher program in the country allows the receipts of vouchers by private schools that can be unaccredited; employ unlicensed uncertified teachers — including teachers who don’t even have a high school diploma; employ teachers and staff without performing a criminal background check; teach no science or history; teach only the recitation of religious texts; and discriminate against students with disabilities. In the absence of standards, North Carolina stands in a class of its own.”

And here is a five minute excerpt from Craige’s argument:

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Jerry Tillman

Sen. Jerry Tillman

As the debate over school vouchers rages on before the state Supreme Court today, Senate education committee chair Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) told N.C. Policy Watch he’s not for sending taxpayer dollars to private schools.

“They [private schools] are not regulated and we don’t know what they teach there, do we? Do you know?” said Tillman at the conclusion of Tuesday’s joint education appropriations meeting. A proponent of “school choice,” Tillman said he prefers the charter school model over private school vouchers.

“And do you know who’s the biggest recipient of school vouchers? A Muslim school,” said Tillman. “The Muslim schools are leading the pack. I’m not in favor of that.”

As of last fall, the Greensboro Islamic Academy was the leading recipient of school voucher funds, although recent records provided by the NC State Education Assistance Authority show that the top recipient is now Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy, with Greensboro Islamic in second place having received $142,800 in taxpayer funds this year.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the “Opportunity Scholarships” beginning last fall. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the state’s new school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues.

Tune into WRAL this morning to watch oral arguments in the school voucher case taking place before the state Supreme Court.

Tomorrow, N.C. Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey will have a recap of today’s hearing.

 

Commentary

Curious about the real cost of vouchers? Check out these two great op-eds from Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly and Margaret Arbuckle in the Greensboro News-Record.

Rev. Beverly focuses on why risky vouchers schemes violate the North Carolina constitution:

Article IX, Section 6 of the North Carolina constitution declares that public funds for education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

The language could not be clearer: Under our constitution, funds that must be used “exclusively” for the public schools cannot be used to issue private school vouchers.

That’s not all. The constitution requires that taxpayer funds must be spent “for public purposes only.”

Arbuckle’s piece highlights the very real human consequences of this ill-advised program:

Vouchers have horrible consequences, including misuse of public funds, violating separation of church and state and compromising children’s educational outcomes in unaccountable schools. This is a bad idea, wrong in its concept and implementation. The consequences for our public education system will be dire.

Both are well worth your time in advance of tomorrow’s hearing at the North Carolina Supreme Court.