Vouchers are just bad education policy

op frThe Smoky Mountain News published an excellent analysis of the controversy centered on the current legislation called the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the Jan. 29 issue (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/12377). SMN Staff Writer Holly Kays presented this material in exemplary form. 

I was particularly struck by the quote that is attributed to Rep. Roger West, our elected official from Marble. He said, “I think anybody that wants to make a decision to go to a private school, they ought to be able to do it, and they ought to be able to recoup what the state allocates for each student.” This seems like a strange system of reasoning to come from a representative who has sworn to uphold the laws of North Carolina (based on our constitution). Since 1789 North Carolina has provided public education opportunities for all of her citizens. Few would claim that the system has been perfect. Few would claim that our elected officials have acted perfectly all of the time. This, unfortunately, is one of those times when a group of elected officials has used very poor judgment. This will entangle state/local agencies and organizations in a costly legal battle to overturn this bad legislation.


Yet, we now face a situation where misguided lawmakers have created an opening for private schools to siphon off money that should be used for the overwhelming number of young people for whom education dollars are intended by our state constitution. This makes for an extremely uneven and unfair playing field. Public schools use public money (and seek private funds) to carry out their mission. Private schools have (since 1789) used private money exclusively. 

Now, with the Opportunity Scholarship Program they have been provided a key to the bank, which was set up originally for the population at large. No law mandated private schools. Some people decided they wanted an alternative to public education. So, they agreed to pay for it for whatever reason they had at the time. I admired their efforts and ingenuity at that time. I do not admire their ingenuity in obtaining public funds. Is there any mechanism by which public schools could legally tap into private school money?

It is interesting to re-read Mr. West’s statement. It would be very difficult to argue that people should not be able to make a decision for their children to go to a private school. However, it is not difficult to oppose the idea of usurping public funds for private education. It will be proven to be unconstitutional when subjected to the scrutiny of superior courts. If not, a whole new set of legislation may allow each of us to pick how we want military money spent. We might be able to select exactly which crops we want to support in agriculture research, etc. This state and this country will be mighty hard to govern if we come to that type of latitude in legislation. 

Hopefully we will see the reversal of this legislation. Let’s hope that part of the review will specify that all of the money siphoned off will have to be repaid to the public schools.

Dave Waldrop


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