Poverty center director: Keep poor kids consigned to bad schools, and don’t give them a choice

The position of director of the UNC poverty center was created as, and remains, a sinecure that gives the officeholder a free pass to promote leftist politics while doing nothing to help poor people in North Carolina. The center director’s column today in The News & Observer is fully in line with this role.

The issue is Opportunity Scholarships, or vouchers, which as must be explained elsewhere would

provide as much as $4,200 in scholarships for children from lower-income families to offset the cost of attending private schools. To be eligible in the first year, the children receiving the vouchers must have been enrolled in a public school the previous year and qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches.

North Carolinians are given precious little choice in public school assignments, of course, and this system especially harms poor families who most lack the financial ability to choose a better school if their children are stuck in a bad one.

Ironically, the first director of this center once promoted vouchers to address this very problem … housing vouchers, so a poor family could move out of a neighborhood assigned to a bad school (which is the sort of convoluted public policy a poverty center director must espouse when his use for the poor is for his own political gain).

The director of the center that ostensibly seeks ways to help poor families in North Carolina is careful to present the issue as not about poor families being able to use taxpayer money to choose the school that best meets their needs, but instead about private schools being able to take tax dollars from public schools.

In other words, the director of the center that uses poor families as license to browbeat about public policies with respect to the poor chose to edit poor families out of this discussion of a public policy, even though they are at the very heart of it, and even though his director’s message would appear to call such acts a moral failing. Consider the opening to his column today:

North Carolina’s move to introduce a voucher program, offering millions of public dollars to fund private schools, says much about the General Assembly’s desire to debase public education. The unfolding voucher saga also illustrates, pointedly, the temper, arrogance and overreach of governance in the new North Carolina.

The “Opportunity Scholarship Program” – passed in the 2013 session – appropriated $10 million to fund “scholarships” for eligible [don’t say what makes them eligible!] children to use at private primary and secondary schools. In turn, it reduced the public system budget by about $11.8 million.

Schools receiving tax dollars are not required under the statute to be accredited by any state or national agency, to hire teachers who are licensed or have any stated set of credentials, to meet any meaningful curriculum standards, to demonstrate any level of student achievement or to show they won’t discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability or religion.

Such is our fervor to turn over scarce education funds to 700 private, mostly religious, schools without a whiff of accountability. …

Proponents of the Opportunity Scholarships, however, see it otherwise. From the Carolina Journal article on the lifting of the injunction against them:

“In lifting the injunction, the N.C. Supreme Court has lifted a cloud over the program, and given hope to the thousands of families who have already applied for a scholarship,” said Dick Komer, senior attorney for the [Institute for Justice]. “Although today’s decision isn’t the final word on the program, it bodes well for full vindication at the state’s highest court. More importantly, it bodes well for the families whose only wish is to find the best education for their children.”

Renee Flaherty, another Institute for Justice attorney working on the case,  … said [Judge Robert] Hobgood misread the text of the N.C. Constitution when he issued the injunction. Flaherty said it “in no way prohibits the creation of innovative programs, such as the Opportunity Scholarship Program, that give our poorest families additional educational options.” …

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, lauded the ruling.

“Today’s historic decision vindicates the over 4,500 parents who applied for their child to receive and Opportunity Scholarship and puts parents back in the driver’s seat and their child’s education,” Allison said. “Additionally, this ruling provides immediate relief to low-income and working-class families who applied for this program from across the state and also demonstrates parents [who joined the lawsuit] have a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, added his support.

“The Supreme Court made the right decision today, and I am pleased that thousands of low-income children across North Carolina will have the opportunity to attend a school that best meets their needs in the coming year,” Berger said.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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