North Carolina School Vouchers

PDK reports that just 54% of parents would choose for their child to attend a public school using public funds. The debate over whether school vouchers are useful or not may always continue. (Photo by Public Domain Pictures)

On July 23, 2015, the Supreme Court of North Carolina approved the Opportunity Scholarship Act which allows residents of North Carolina to decide where their tax dollars towards education will go. Before the government introduced the act, a percentage of every person’s taxes automatically went towards the public school system. Now, taxpayers are able to put money towards private schools for their children’s tuition.

Through the Opportunity Scholarship Program of North Carolina, qualifying students are able to receive up to $4,200 each year for tuition. The government only requires students to meet one of these qualifications. They are as follows:

  • Student was a full time student at a public NC school last spring semester
  • Student received a voucher in the last school year
  • Student is entering kindergarten or first grade
  • Student lives in foster care or is an adopted child whose decree was entered less than a year before applying for the adoption grant
  • Student’s household income level is less than 133% of the amount required to be eligible for the free lunch program
  • Student lives in a household with an active member of the United States Armed Forces

School vouchers come as a huge help for many limited lower class families in school choice before. Students now have the option to attend private and religious academies. According to a Duke Law School study from 2017, about 93% of all school vouchers in North Carolina go towards tuition at religious schools.

A Wall Street Journal study published data revealing that the top performing schools were those with about half voucher students and half paying students. The balance seems to promote better performance among the entirety of the learning population and increases diversity in the school community.

People can be quick to assume that economically disadvantaged students will perform at a lower academic level. Supporters of school vouchers could fire back with the claim that not giving all students a fair chance could eliminate great potential.

Not all taxpayers support the idea of school vouchers and many feel that they are limiting and hurtful to the public education system. PDK reported that, as of 2017, only 39% of surveyed Americans supported the idea of public funding for private education. Americans are concerned that vouchers will limit public funding and decrease the level of student performance, safety, and overall school excellence.

Allowing parents to choose the school for their children clearly takes funding away from public education, but there is also no evidence that private schools offer higher quality education for students. This doesn’t prove that private schools aren’t a good option for motivated students because North Carolina only requires public schools to report student data. The government only requires private schools to perform financial reviews if they receive more than $300,000 from vouchers.

Another reason for pushback against vouchers is the already low performance of public schools in many places. At first, this sounds like an argument for supporters. With a second look, one could say that public and private education first need to be at the same level of funding and performance. Then, the government should introduce vouchers to enforce that the decision of where to attend school is based on personal preferences, versus the intent to avoid the public system.

As well as limiting public funds, vouchers could limit teacher and administration employment at public schools. Teachers gathered to hold a rally in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday, May 16, to protest their low pay. Giving more money to private academies and sending more students to private schools may curb teacher salaries even more.

For some, data isn’t the only factor in their decision to support or oppose school vouchers. Political beliefs and the quality of local public schools are also major components of the choice. Support for vouchers is 15 points higher among Republicans in comparison to Democrats. The Trump administration has mentioned, on multiple occasions, a push for a national school-choice selection. The President has already begun to allocate money for the cause.

Government may be making changes to the existence of school vouchers but people will always debate their power. Vouchers benefit some and have the potential to incapacitate others by getting rid of jobs and limiting public education opportunities.

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