In a speech earlier this month before the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, Bev Perdue charged that – if elected — Pat McCory would blow a $1.2 billion hole in North Carolina’s education budget.
Bev should go back to school and re-take math. Her numbers don’t add up. First, Perdue charges McCory’s opposition to the Education Lottery would mean a loss of $350 million in revenue for the schools. Let’s be realistic, even with a Republican governor, what are the chances of reversing the lottery legislation?
Perdue, also charges that school vouchers would use up to $900 million in public funding to pay for private schooling. The calculation is curious: 166,363 (private school students in North Carolina) x $5274 in state aid to each child = $877,398,462. Does $877 million = $900 million? I guess Perdue thinks so. What the heck, it’s the government and it’s only $23 million. Close enough I guess.
The Office of Non-Public Schools lists private school enrollment in NC at around 97,000. My guess is the 166,363 figure includes about 69,000 home school students. For the record The Office of Non-Public Schools does not include home school students in estimates of private school enrollment.
The $900 million cost estimate includes ONLY students already enrolled in private or home schools. Most certainly, vouchers would allow public school students to pursue better educational opportunities elsewhere. There isn’t the time to estimate the number and the exact impact here, but there are many reasons to believe that vouchers — rather than hurting the public schools — would actually benefit public education. If overcrowding is as pervasive as we are led to believe, a decline in students should be welcome. The migration should also lead to a reduction in staffing (the greatest percentage of budget expenditures). In many cases, these changes can actually help to improve student teacher ratios and revenue per student. Equally important, since many private schools actually spend considerably less than the state to educate students, vouchers may also work to save taxpayers money.
The claim that vouchers will take $900 million from the public schools is pure fiction. Since when do the public schools have greater claim on tax dollars than tax payers? If vouchers are going to students already enrolled in private schools, how is money being removed from the public schools? Perdue fails to recognize that by providing education to thousands of students, private and home schools actually save the public schools at least $900 million. It is important to point out “publicly-funded” education should not simply be defined as government schools. Publicly-funded schools should be as different in organization and outlook as the public it serves.
No doubt Perdue’s remarks are motivated by the belief that support for the “v” word is still political suicide in North Carolina. But is this true? A July 2008 Civitas DecisionMaker Poll, found 51 percent of NC voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports school vouchers. Similarly, the same poll in June found that 64 percent of voters support a system of education tax credits that can be used at any private or public school. Those numbers reflect a big shift in thinking. McCory would do well to emphasize those numbers and the need to bring our education policies in line with changing public sentiment.