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Politico’s Stephanie Simon has a compelling story from this weekend about how American taxpayers will spend more than $1 billion to help parents send their kids to private schools – yet there is scant evidence that this endeavor will actually help students succeed.

Milwaukee, Cleveland, New Orleans – all hallowed ground for school vouchers, yet their stories point to failure instead of success for student guinea pigs.

In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.

And across Louisiana, many of the most popular private schools for voucher students posted miserable scores in math, reading, science and social studies this spring, with fewer than half their voucher students achieving even basic proficiency and fewer than 2 percent demonstrating mastery. Seven schools did so badly, state Superintendent John White barred them from accepting new voucher students — though the state agreed to keep paying tuition for the more than 200 voucher students already enrolled, if they chose to stay.

Beginning in 2014, North Carolina will begin its own voucher program, funneling $10 million in funds that would have gone to public schools to parents wishing to send their kids to private schools. I’ve written a series of stories for a special feature that takes a look at what we can expect as the Opportunity Scholarship Program approaches implementation.

One of the things people rightfully dislike about their government is when they are not told the truth. Sadly, in the ongoing debate about North Carolina’s new school voucher plan many politicians have been doing just that.

In an apparent effort to lessen the controversy, some legislators have been claiming that that it is “essentially a pilot program.” It is not. The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” is a full-blown government program similar to ones that have failed miserably in several jurisdictions. It has no expiration date and its sponsors have made plain their intention to expand it.

In explaining the education budget, one state senator wrote:

In regards to the Opportunity Scholarship Act, this is a pilot program for low income families.  Many children in low income families are forced to attend low-performing schools because they do not have the opportunity that wealthier families have to move to better schools.  We simply want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity to succeed; it is by no means a sign that lawmakers lack confidence in our public schools.

At least four obvious responses deserve mention: Read More

The good folks at Public Schools First NC have issued a scathing review of the budget deal:

Public Schools First NC urges reconsideration of brutal cuts to public education
Proposed budget fails students and families while undermining North Carolina’s economic foundation

Raleigh, NC—July 22, 2013—Public Schools First NC is disappointed by the General Assembly’s aggressive attack against public education in its proposed biennial budget. By syphoning public dollars away for private school vouchers, slashing funds for teaching assistants, eliminating teacher professionalism and increasing class size, the budget strikes at the heart of proven strategies that lead to strong schools; adequate funding, small class sizes, and experienced educators. Read More

School vouchersIn 2012, many of the politicians who now control the North Carolina General Assembly ran on pledges of “fiscal conservatism” and reducing government spending. Indeed, many prominent members of the current majority continue to style themselves as “common-sense fiscal conservatives.”

There’s a disappointing lack of common sense, however, in the proposed “Opportunity Scholarships” program included in the current House budget. The program would provide school vouchers—up to $4,200 each—for K-12 students to attend private schools instead of traditional public schools. The current budget proposal appropriates $10 million for the program in the first year, and jumps to $40 million for the second. In a time of huge cuts to our public school system, there is no common sense in taking much needed resources from our students and teachers and asking them again to somehow do more with less.

Instead of being fiscally conservative, this voucher scheme is fiscally irresponsible, since it will cost the state money every year after the first. In fact, the larger the program becomes, the more money it will lose for North Carolinians. Read More