“Schools without standards, without accountability, are not worthy of a $4,200 check.” Those are the words of North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) president Rodney Ellis. Yesterday Ellis, NCAE, and representatives from 24 other groups filed suit calling the state’s new voucher program unconstitutional and asking that the court stop payment of potentially up to $10 million in voucher payments.
While I’m not surprised by the lawsuit, the legal argument and Ellis’ comments are surprising. The lawsuit contends that the state constitution requires public money that is earmarked for education to be spent “exclusively” on public schools. What “exclusively” means needs to be legally defined and that is an issue the courts will settle. Still, the money for the voucher bill was part of the State budget bill. It’s hard to conceive if and when any of the $20.6 billion appropriation bill was specifically earmarked for education.
North Carolina has been providing funds to students to attend private schools for years. Millions in voucher payments have been provided to students who attend private pre-K programs, first under More at Four and more recently under NC Pre-K. North Carolina also provides millions in tuition assistance for students to attend private colleges. It’s hard to ignore NCAE’s selective indignation. NCAE hasn’t said a peep about these programs which have been operating for years and with budgets many times the size of the Opportunity Scholarship program.
Rodney Ellis says private schools are “schools without standards and schools without accountability.” It’s an assertion that lacks evidence. Shall we state the obvious: every private school has standards. Show me one that doesn’t. As far as accountability, voucher schools are required to meet numerous accountability requirements. Each school is required to furnish a scholarship student’s parent with an explanation of student progress. Voucher schools must administer a nationally standardized test to scholarship students enrolled in grades three or higher. Schools that enroll more than 25 scholarship grant students must report test performance results in the aggregate to state officials. Finally, schools that receive more than $300,000 in scholarship grants are required to contract with a CPA firm to perform a financial review.
Do voucher schools lack accountability? If private schools don’t perform; parents are dissatisfied and students leave. When parents; leave students leave and the all important tuition revenue leaves with the departing student.
Ellis implies that private schools lack public school accountability. If a public school underperforms, a team of turnaround experts descends on the school with additional resources and expectations of improving performance. This may take years. In the meantime the school stays open. If a private school doesn’t perform, parents will be dissatisfied, students leave along with the revenue they bring to help run the school. When this happens on a large scale, the school is shut down. Since tuition is such a high percentage of operating revenue for private schools, private schools must be especially sensitive to the needs of the people they serve; parents and students. Accountability? You tell me which type of school has better accountability?