Education vouchers wrong at any level

Published 10:36 pm Saturday, September 13, 2008

By Staff
Expect to hear Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue bring up school vouchers on a daily basis in her campaign against Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory until the voters go to the polls in November.
One of Perdue’s ads touts McCrory’s support of vouchers to show he is “wrong for the middle class” and says it would mean deep cuts in education or tax increases. Perdue clearly believes that McCrory’s support of vouchers is a winning issue for her and she is probably right.
Despite claims otherwise by the folks on the Right brandishing misleading polls, the public does not support dismantling public education by giving out vouchers for private and religious schools. Even voters in conservative Utah handily defeated a voucher proposal on the ballot last year.
McCrory seems to understand all that, based on his responses to Perdue’s attacks, which normally don’t include a passionate defense of vouchers. McCrory instead says that Perdue favors vouchers too, at least in higher education, pointing to her support of the state subsidy for North Carolina students who attend private colleges and universities.
Almost $100 million of taxpayer money goes to private schools through two programs, the State Contractual Scholarship Funds, which is need-based, and the North Carolina Legislative Tuition Grant, which is not.
The state gives $1,950 to every year to private college or university for every North Carolina student who attends, whether they need help with tuition or not. That part of the private college subsidy cost $55 million in 2008 and went to small, modest schools and wealthy schools alike.
Duke received $1.7 million of state taxpayer money in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Campbell just over $5 million. Gardner-Webb received $3 million from state coffers, Mount Olive College almost $3.5 million.
Giving $100 million of public money to private colleges doesn’t make much sense when public schools are underfunded and UNC is raising tuition and fees for in-state students. But it’s not likely to change soon. An amendment to eliminate the non-need based tuition grant program offered during the budget debate two years ago garnered only nine votes in the 120-member House.
Lawmakers with private schools in their districts support the subsidy even as some of them lament the current funding levels for K-12 and the state university system. Private colleges and universities lobby intensely not only to keep the state taxpayer subsidy, but to increase it. The amount goes up every year. This past session lawmakers also voted to make it available for students who are only taking six hours of classes a week.
McCrory’s right that the private college subsidy is a voucher of sorts and it drains the state budget the same way vouchers for public schools would. And Perdue supports it, though it is different from the K-12 vouchers in one important way.
The state constitution guarantees every child a high school education and state law requires kids to attend, at least until they are 16. Not every student goes to college.
Perdue’s right that school vouchers for private and religious K-12 schools is a bad idea and would devastate public education and people understand that. Giving $100 million of public money to private colleges is also wrong and means less money for public schools and other important state programs.
Vouchers at any level are wrong for the middle class and everybody else.
Perdue seems to get that half the time, while McCrory doesn’t get it at all.