Yesterday (May 22), Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for public education. Republicans, of course, howled. They accused of him being desperate as the legislature exercises its veto-proof majority to pass legislation with no checks or balances. Cooper is not desperate. He’s sounding the alarm and he’s setting the stage for the 2024 election.
The Republicans’ plan to create a statewide voucher system is radical, reckless, and irresponsible. They are dismantling our public education system to satisfy the whims of their base. They have no evidence that shifting the state’s funding formula from “systems to students,” as they say, will improve the quality of education for our children, but they know the program will shift money from schools that serve poor families to the pockets of wealthy donors and their evangelical base.
The voucher scheme is radical in both its scope and its goals. Voucher programs have usually been designed to allow low-income families to send their children to private schools. In that arrangement, the state pays part of the child’s tuition and the school usually pays part through scholarships and the parents may pick up some of the cost. The Republicans’ plan in North Carolina has nothing to do with providing assistance to poor people and everything to do with putting more money into the pockets of wealthy families who can already afford private schools. They fundamentally do not believe in shared public responsibility. They are breaking a significant part of the North Carolina’s social contract, the obligation to provide a sound basic education to all of our children. That’s radical, not conservative.
The scheme is reckless because no research or prior program indicates that it will provide better outcomes for our children. The only state that has a program even close to as broad as the one North Carolina is about to impose is Arizona where their voucher scheme is off to a rocky start with the vast majority of funds going to students who already go to private schools. We’re about to make our children guinea pigs in a right-wing experiment that will impact their economic and social well-being for the rest of their lives. We don’t have any evidence that the outcomes for our children will be better and plenty of evidence to show that they could be worse. Studies show that students who leave public schools for private ones see a significant drop in test scores.
The scheme is irresponsible because it panders to political and religious zealots instead of the broader public and because private schools have no oversight despite the fact that they are about to see a huge influx of public funds. Republicans who once demanded accountability are about to shovel millions, if not billions, of dollars into a program with no goals or benchmarks and a huge opportunity for fraud. How many for-profit schools are going to pocket public funds without delivering a sound, basic education? Where are the guard rails?
Cooper’s declaration is sounding a needed alarm. Parents and citizens need to know what is happening to their school system. The GOP voucher scheme is not a tweak. It’s a dramatic overhaul of the system without any accountability. Children will almost certainly bear the brunt of the change. Not all children. Just those who need support the most. It will be a windfall for private schools and rich parents. It will ghettoize schools in poor systems. And it’s a violation of the state’s constitution that guarantees all children a sound education.
There’s a saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We’re seeing it here in North Carolina with a veto-proof Republican majority in the legislature and a politically compliant Supreme Court. The GOP is passing legislation that lacks popular support and imposing it on the state. They’ve passed a draconian abortion law and now they are dismantling the state’s public school system. Voters need to know what is happening and Cooper is in the best position of anyone to let them know. I would argue it’s his responsibility. Most people aren’t paying enough attention to see what the legislature is doing. With his veto rally last week and his announcement yesterday, Cooper is doing his job to keep the people who elected him informed about what’s happening in Raleigh. It was both a public service announcement and a call to arms. I hope people heard it.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com.