Lawmakers pledge $900 million to Opportunity Scholarship over 10 years, despite conflicting reports

Investigators

Millions of tax dollars are going to fund private schools in North Carolina. The money is being funneled through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which lawmakers passed a few years ago.

The program is designed to provide low-income parents a choice in what schools their children attend. Last year, the state handed out $27 million in scholarships to private-school students.

In just four years, the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program has grown from 1,216 to more than 7,300 students.

Gov. Roy Copper has tried to kill the program more than once because of its lack of transparency.

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“I don’t think that vouchers to private schools that are unaccountable is a good way to spend taxpayer money,” he said. “I would rather spend it on our public schools and for teacher pay”.

One of the criticisms of the program is the lack of available data on student performance. Private schools are required to administer nationally standardized tests, but schools are not required to report test scores to the state unless more than 25 students are receiving an opportunity scholarship.

Brian Jodice of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina claims a report released this week clears up some of those doubts.

“What has been asked for along the way? How are these students doing and where are they academically? There are all of these things you can point to, and you can look at how parents feel about it. We know they are making these choices they must feel strongly about it wanting to do it,” he said.

A North Carolina State University report claims Opportunity Scholarship students are keeping pace or exceeding their public school peers in reading, language, and math. As part of the report, researchers gave the same test to an equal number of students in public school and those in private schools receiving a scholarship. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina helped recruit some students used in the N.C. State study.

“Who are these programs accountable to? Taxpayers, legislators — absolutely. What about parents? Where is the accountability of the parents to? So, parents are the ones that are making the choice to send their children to these schools,” Jodice said.

Another assessment of the program from the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke Law School is not as flattering. Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below the 50th percentile on nationally standardized reading, language, and math tests.

The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so.

Despite the conflicting studies, lawmakers have pledged $900 million to the Opportunity Scholarship Program over the next 10 years.

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