The North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision to allow the dispensation of public money for private schools is the latest blow in an ongoing assault against our public education system.
The decision came down last month, reversing a 2014 decision that found the voucher plan violates the promise of a “sound basic education” for all NC students as articulated by the Supremes in 2004.
Now the higher court is not convinced that the voucher program will affect that promise.
Any they’re probably right — in the short term.
About $10 million was earmarked for the voucher program in the 2014-15 school year from the public school budget of just over $8 billion, offering up to $4,200 per qualifying child. About 5,500 people applied for 2,400 spots in the program’s first year, and the state will increase the total allotment as demand rises.
Consider, too, that $4,200 is enough to cover perhaps 25 percent of the annual tuition at Greensboro Day School and Forsyth Country Day School, which are on the higher end of the spectrum but indicative of what a private education can cost around here.
As the voucher program takes hold, no doubt we will see new private schools set a price point pegged to the $4,200, after which the designers of this program can claim victory and justify their increase.
What it looks like from the outside is a big grab at one of the last big pots of money in state government. Consider again that $8 billion education budget, sacrosanct for generations before the Republicans came to town but now clearly in play.
How much can be removed from this budget before a “sound basic education” can no longer be provided for our children?
To be sure, the voucher program does help a small percentage of students — most of them outside our cities, which benefit from large and adaptive school systems — who are unable to learn in the public-school environment. But it also funds churches and other religious enterprises by slicing off chunks of the school budget for Christian, Jewish and Muslim schools, which make up about 90 percent of the approved list. Greensboro Day and Forsyth Country Day are absent from the list of approved schools.
But the voucher program helps less expensive private schools — sure to become a booming industry in our state in the months and years to come — far more than it helps students. And the price — a gradual dissolving of the public education system we’ve built — goes way beyond a few thousand dollars per student.