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.



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.


Dan ForestYou’ve got to hand it to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. The Lite Guv is clearly the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina in decades — especially when it comes to social issues, where in his less-well-guarded moments, he can make Pat Robertson sound like a secular progressive.

And yet, despite this, Forest is also a very slick and ambitious politician. Maybe, it’s being the son of a longtime member of Congress, but whatever the explanation, Forest can be very skilled at cloaking his extremist views with mainstream-sounding language.

A classic example is his “I support teachers” specialty license plate idea that he is plugging this week. What could sound more wholesome and make for better P.R. than “supporting” teachers?

The only problem, of course, is that the whole idea of “supporting” teachers by raising private donations at $50 a throw so that a foundation can mete them out to teachers in dribs and drabs is an absurd idea. Not only will it amount to a drop in the bucket, it undermines the very idea of how public schools ought to be funded and assessed — i.e. by the taxpayers and the professionals they employ.

But, of course, this shouldn’t come as any real surprise. As one of the most ardent champions of school privatization via vouchers (Forest’s own kids have been home schooled) and regressive tax policies that have undermined funding for what folks on the Right like to call “government schools,” Forest has been pushing the kind of slickly packaged, far right agenda that would warm the hearts of the Koch brothers for many years.

Let’s hope North Carolinians quickly see through this cynical effort to burnish/soften the image of an ambitious politician who could, if he really supported public school teachers, find several more effective ways to do so.

Commentary, News

For those thinking about attending tomorrow’s scheduled state Supreme Court has oral arguments on the state’s school vouchers law, the court has rescheduled until NEXT Tuesday due to the inclement weather. let’s hope the justices spend some of their time reading op-eds like this one that ran in Greensboro News Record over the weekend. As the paper noted:

“A grant of $4,200 doesn’t give a poor family an “equal opportunity” to send its child to the same school that a wealthy family can afford. For example, tuition at Greensboro Day School for children in grades 1 through 4 is $18,400, leaving the voucher family $14,200 short.

Equality is the first false promise of this program. The second is that any private school is as good as or better than a public school. Yet, the state doesn’t hold participating private schools to any standards. They don’t have to offer small class sizes, teach an approved curriculum or hire certified teachers — or even teachers who pass a criminal background check….

When it comes to the public schools, the legislature demands accountability. It places A-F grades on public schools to let everyone know how they’re performing. Of private schools that receive public funding, the legislature demands nothing. They get free money and a free pass. Why?”


More than $4,000,000 worth of taxpayer-funded school vouchers have now been paid out to private schools subject to virtually no state oversight in North Carolina, according to records obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

Documents released by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority show that five private schools have now received at least $100,000 in state funds thanks to the new Opportunity Scholarships program, which offers low-income families $4,200 vouchers annually to use at private schools that are overwhelmingly affiliated with religious institutions and are not required to follow a curriculum, employ certified teachers or conduct criminal background checks on employees.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the 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. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the voucher case February 17.

The top twelve schools receiving taxpayer-funded school vouchers are:

  1. Word of God Christian Academy (Raleigh) – $180,600
  2. Greensboro Islamic Academy – $142,800
  3. Concord First Assembly Academy (Concord) – $120,190
  4. Fayetteville Christian School – $118,230
  5. Freedom Christian School (Fayetteville) – $108,254
  6. Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville) – $96,600
  7. Tabernacle Christian School (Monroe) – $96,568
  8. Al-Iman School (Raleigh) – $86,841
  9. Raleigh Christian Academy – $81,900
  10. Victory Christian Center School (Charlotte) – $77,646
  11. Liberty Christian Academy (Richlands) – $75,530
  12. Bal-Perazim Christian Academy (Fayetteville) – $72,870

A total of $4,159,457 public dollars have been spent of the $10 million that state lawmakers appropriated for school vouchers last year (that figure does not include administrative costs).

Records also included numbers of school voucher recipients by ethnicity.

American Indian or Alaska Native:                     9
Asian                                                                      20
Biracial                                                                 106
Black or African American                                 616
Hispanic                                                                102
Other                                                                      16
White                                                                     333
Total                                                                   1,202

Last year, N.C. Policy Watch reported that Greensboro Islamic Academy, one of the top recipients of taxpayer-funded school vouchers, was in financial trouble and pleading online for help from the public to fund its $150,000 shortfall so that the school could complete the 2013-14 school year.

Greensboro Islamic Academy has now received $142,800 for its 63 voucher students.

Read the full list of school voucher recipients below.