If parents want to yank their children out of public schools and enroll them in a private or for-profit school, let them. But North Carolina lawmakers shouldn’t steal from public education to pay for it.
Across the country, Republican-controlled legislatures are pushing for private school vouchers paid for with public tax dollars to cover the cost of tuition. Florida and other states this year diverted some $343 million from public education to pay for private school tuition for nearly 129,000 students.
Louisiana recently shifted tens of millions in tax dollars out of its public schools to pay private industry, business owners and church pastors to educate children.
Republicans in North Carolina are also using their majority to try and push through similar private school expansion plans.
A bill by House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, would let corporations divert their entire yearly state tax debt to help parents afford private school tuition. Tax diversions would increase from $40 million next year to $98 million in 2016, according to Stam.
The plan would allow those tax monies to then be used to create scholarships for students from low-income families to use to attend private or religious schools. Eligible families could receive up to $4,000 a year per student.
The typical tuition for a private K-12 school in North Carolina is $5,600 to $5,700, so $4,000 per student wouldn’t cover all costs for a private education.
Compare that to what it costs to educate each of the state’s 1.5 million public school students — some $8,414 each year. The assumption is that public schools cost more while they fail to deliver the quality education that many parents expect. Therefore, parents want more options.
However, this private school tuition plan is bad for two reasons. One, it opens up the door to letting companies pick and choose where they want their tax dollars go. That is the legislature’s job, and why we elect lawmakers.
Second, each time a student leaves a public school for a private one, that revenue per student — an estimated $5,000 from the state and $2,000 from Pasquotank County — leaves the local school system.
Thus, school choice means public schools will end up making public schools weaker. It’s a trade-off that shouldn’t have to be made.
“My concern is that this is really just a back door way of giving vouchers that corporations in North Carolina should be paying their full tax obligation to the state,” said Sheri Strickland, president of the North Carolina Education Association. We agree.
But taxpayer support for private school tuition isn’t the only front on which advocates of public education find themselves fighting in North Carolina.
A for-profit company wants to establish the North Carolina Virtual Charter Academy in Cabarrus County. The charter school would provide full-time public school services online, using curriculum and services from the for-profit company K-12 Inc., which would oversee the virtual school’s operations. Under K-12 Inc.’s plan, the online academy would enroll 2,750 students in grades K-10 in its first year.
Since a for-profit company cannot own a public school, a shell nonprofit is created to own the school, which then hires a for-profit group to manage the school’s operations.
That is how the loophole works for a for-profit business. Money would be channeled by the state’s coffers through the N.C. Virtual Academy and then to the for-profit K-12 Inc., which would be the exclusive curriculum provider and hire and train the charter school’s teachers.
Because of the potential threat to public education funding — the online charter school wouldn’t have brick-and-mortar costs but would be entitled to the same state and local monies traditional schools receive — the State Board of Education rejected K-12 Inc.’s request. An administrative law judge, however, overruled the state board’s decision, saying the board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying the request.
As a result, the state school board is now asking local school districts to support a legal effort to block K-12 from receiving a charter for its online school. Last week, the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools obliged. Other area school boards are slated to consider the request this month. We urge them to also sign on to this effort to block this for-profit virtual charter school.
Bill Luton, a member of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education and currently the Democratic candidate for the state House seat in the 1st District, knows a thing or two about online education. He works as dean of business at Allied American University, an online college that specializes in providing higher education opportunities to U.S. military personnel.
Luton opposes K-12’s request for a charter for an online school, nothing that “this company in particular has a history of putting profit before students, and that’s not what North Carolina needs.”
Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers don’t seem too concerned about the potential impact the private school scholarships and online charter schools would have on public education. They’ve rejected all efforts to raise new revenues for schools — the revised $20.3 billion budget plan they approved last week ignored Gov. Bev Perdue’s plea for an increase of three-quarters-of-a-cent in the sales tax rate. It does, however, set aside $617,000 in state revenues in case lawmakers approve the private school scholarship program for low-income students.
Apparently GOP lawmakers’ plan is to continue siphoning off funds from public education to pay for these new initiatives. We’ll see how well that plan plays with voters this fall.