School Vouchers: Enabling a Race to the Bottom

>>Private school girlsBY VALERIE EVANS     When I first heard that the state will give me $4,200 (in voucher form) to send my child to a private school, I immediately wanted to know where to sign up.

The state of North Carolina is one of the latest states to jump onto the school voucher bandwagon. The promises that vouchers will give parents more choice and make schools behave more competitively have been the selling points in other states and have led the way in this newest educational “reform” initiative. The jury, however, is still out. According to a Rand Corporation study, simply >>attending a private school isn’t necessarily the key to student success. Factors such as parental education level and involvement may be more important to student success than what school students attend.

I think one of the problems we all have is envisioning private schools in a “Dead Poets’ Society,” “Harry Potter,” and “The Facts of Life” kind of way. Pictures of uniforms, study halls, and honor societies fill our heads. We imagine our budding scholars to be little Einsteins running off to science labs to freely exercise their innate genius that has been squashed by the structure of public schools for so long. (Yes, I know Einstein was a mathematician, but you get my point.)

The reality, however, is much different. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s web site, >>private schools K-12 in North Carolina are not required to provide meals, transportation, or even certified teachers. The buildings and systems are only required to meet basic standards – which exclude science labs, libraries, and accommodations for children with learning disabilities. Even more concerning is the fact that they aren’t required to have any accreditation whatsoever. While private schools must participate in standardized tests for grades 3, 6, and 9, they are not required to publicly disclose test results and performance.

At a time when our state officials claim that our resources are strapped and funding for education is scarce — even though the Education Lottery was supposed to rocket us to the top (but that’s a subject for another post) — do we really want to skim money for schools that provide less than the bare minimum of services to our students?  I would rather invest in making our public education system the envy of the nation.

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