Chris Fitzsimon NC Policy Watch
December 20, 2013
The recent filing of a lawsuit against the state’s new private school voucher scheme by the NCAE and the N.C. Justice Center on behalf of 25 plaintiffs received a flurry of media attention – and it should have.
There’s a compelling case that diverting public money to private schools violates the state constitution. The courts will ultimately decide if that is true.
But the mechanics of the voucher program have received far less attention by the media, as has the almost complete lack of accountability in the program.
Almost 700 private and religious schools currently quality for state money under the voucher scheme that parents will begin applying for Feb. 1.
And as Lindsay Wagner with N.C. Policy Watch has reported, the schools themselves have to meet very few requirements to be eligible to receive public funding, basic safety and immunization records are enough.
Wagner’s recent story highlighted Paramount Christian Academy in Davidson County, a school with three students and one teacher that appears to functioning as much as a home school as a private academy.
The school may not even meet the minimal requirements. Officials in the state Office of Non-Public Schools had no record that the school was ever visited and couldn’t produce any information about safety inspections.
Yet Paramount is on the current list of private schools that may receive vouchers next fall.
Paramount also uses fundamentalist textbooks that teach students that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.
All that is apparently fine under the voucher scheme, as is openly discriminating against gay students and their families. A private school in Wilmington eligible for the voucher money recently announced that gay students would not be admitted to the school and neither would students with gay parents.
The school later decided not to participate in the voucher program but many religious schools eligible for vouchers appear to have similar discriminatory policies. And many also use the disturbing instructional materials that the teacher at Paramount uses.
Wagner also reports that 83 voucher-eligible schools have fewer than 10 students, many with only one or two teachers. Some of those are most likely homeschools, though there’s no way to tell and the law differentiating home schools and private schools is vague at best.
And it is safe bet that, like Paramount, many of those smaller schools have never been visited by a state official and have no safety records on file.
You would think that the shocking lack of accountability with the voucher scheme would trouble political leaders who fancy themselves as fiscal conservatives, keeping a close eye on how every public dollar is spent.
To his credit, Rep. Jon Hardister, one of the sponsors of the voucher legislation, does seem concerned, telling Wagner that he wants the schools to be accountable.
But overall, most supporters of the voucher scheme are not only brushing aside questions about where public money is going, they are hoping that lawmakers expand the sketchy law this summer.
Ideology and the dismantling of public education seem much more important to the Right than the accountability for public spending that they claim to champion.
Fitzsimon is the founder and executive director of NC Policy Watch. For more information, visit www.ncpolicywatch.com