Roughly 20 percent of North Carolina students are opting out of public schools for private or home schooling. The state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is helping pay the tuition for many of those students. Tax dollars funded $28 million for private school tuition last year.
That’s led to questions about the program and how tax money is being spent.
Amorre Brown is a junior at Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro. He has $4,200 of his yearly tuition covered by the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. His mother, Charlonda Brown covers the remaining balance. She said, in her opinion, there is no question that the school is doing a good job to educate her son.
“Number one, that private school is accountable,” Brown said. “They are accountable to me because I have a say so in not only who they hire, but who they don’t allow to not come back the next year.”
Jane Wettach with the Duke Children’s Law Clinic has written extensively about this voucher program. She believes more state oversight is needed.
“Things like requiring schools that take voucher money have to have a curriculum that is at least equivalent to the public school curriculum, or has some measure of equivalence,” Wettach said. “It could be done in a lot of different ways, but a curriculum requirement so that we don’t have a situation where … schools can teach virtually nothing and they can still get voucher money.”
North Carolina’s private schools are required to offer nationally recognized tests for student performance. They must also maintain attendance, immunization records, and offer at least a nine-month school calendar.
Non-public schools in the state fall under the Department of Administration. There are two more departments under the DOA. The North Carolina Student Assistance Authority awards vouchers and tracks the money. The Division of Non-Public Education tracks student enrollment.
CBS 17 found several inconsistencies between the two state departments.
For one, CBS 17 found six private schools that the North Carolina Student Assistance Authority gave voucher money to in 2016-17, but the North Carolina Directory of Non-Public Schools shows no enrollment records for those schools.
CBS 17 also found three schools that listed a lower enrollment number than the number of students receiving vouchers. That included one Raleigh private school that received more than $35,000 in vouchers for the 2016-17 school year, yet the school is not even listed in that year’s North Carolina Directory of Non-Public Schools. Other state records show the school closed in June 2017.
While there’s no evidence the schools did anything wrong, the two agencies that track thousands of students and millions of tax dollars are not talking to one another.
“So what I can share is that school enrollment can fluctuate throughout the school year,” said Christy Agner with the Division of Non-Public Education. “So, we receive an annual report … Now the information on student enrollment is voluntary under state law.”
Agner added that private schools in the state aren’t required to report attendance to the state. So, should the two agencies be required to share information?
There are currently no plans to consolidate the two agencies. Doing so would require action by the General Assembly.
Despite lingering questions about the state’s oversight, the Brown family said the voucher program is working fine for it.