My friends at Moore Tea Citizens Blog are calling me out. The headline reads “Civitas Is Now supporting Redistributional Welfare.” Moore Tea opposes Civitas’ support for Personal Education Savings Accounts (PESA). The blog read: “the program [ Personal Education Savings Accounts] uses the NC tax system to take money from the North Carolinians with their own financial struggles and family heartache and gives it to the selected group of families with ‘special needs.’ ”
Redistributional welfare? Not a chance. Moore Tea bloggers seem to forget that the North Carolina State Constitution (Article IX) lays out the state’s obligation to provide a free and uniform system of public education for all students. The statement is clear. How education is to be financed and delivered are the only real questions and the legislature has say over how those are answered.
North Carolina currently spends over $9 billion on K-12 public education. While there are many good public schools, we know that many fail to offer children access to a quality education. Growing dissatisfaction has fueled a parental choice movement and birthed educational options such as charter schools, the Opportunity Scholarship program, Special Needs Scholarship and most recently, the Personal Education Savings Accounts.
These programs fufill the state’s mandate educate all students. They also offer parents the chance to determine how and where their child attends school. As parents make that choice, the schools are ultimately accountable to the parents – the best kind of accountability. Moreover, the cost of educating a child at many parental choice programs is less than the costs of education at traditional public schools.
We should applaud lawmakers for approving the Personal Education Savings Account program and offering parents another educational option. PESA offers parents an innovative way to provide their special needs son or daughter access to a quality education, an option that was previously unavailable for parents in many schools because of lack of resources, staff or training.
It is important to note that the PESA program is largely targeted on students who are already in the public schools. PESA offers those children, an opportunity at a better education. This is a key difference between parental choice and welfare programs. Welfare programs are redistributive. Money is taken from those who have and given to the have-nots. Parental choice programs give parents choices on where they can send their child for a better education. However, the money will be spent regardless of where the parents decide to send the child to school.
North Carolina has a constitutional obligation to educate all children. The parental choice movement has expanded how that obligation is met by offering parents other educational alternatives
Is PESA redistributional welfare? If you still think so, you a need better understanding of our State Constitution and the promise of parental choice.