There’s a long list of reasons why private school vouchers are problematic. Even though these reasons are well-documented, state legislatures keep trying to funnel more money away from public schools to private, religious schools. Unfortunately, North Carolina is no different. Legislators in that state just tried to sneak a provision into an education bill, HB 90, that would expand one of their voucher programs. We are urging Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to veto it.
Last year, North Carolina legislators decided that the state’s two voucher programs weren’t enough, so they created a new program called the Personal Education Savings Account (PESA) for students with disabilities. The PESAs are set to begin in the 2018-2019 school year. Legislators couldn’t wait for the program to even begin before trying to expand eligibility.
They must have known this move would be unpopular though, because they tried to sneak the voucher expansion into an unrelated education bill, HB 90. The House and Senate both passed HB 90 last year. Then last Thursday, legislators met in conference to work out the differences in the versions they passed. By the time they were done that evening, they had created an entirely new – and controversial – bill. Among other things, it now contains the voucher expansion. Both chambers then acted very quickly: The Senate approved this new bill by Friday afternoon, and the House approved it yesterday.
To qualify under the current program, students must have a disability and meet one other criteria from a set list, such as being a full-time student at a public school, entering kindergarten or first grade or being in foster care. If HB 90 passes, the program would be open to all students with disabilities who are eligible to attend a public school. This is a significant expansion.
Students who leave public schools with a voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to students under IDEA. As a result, students with disabilities have been systematically excluded from voucher programs around the country.
Although we support the goal of improving educational opportunities for students with disabilities, vouchers harm rather than improve educational outcomes. And private voucher schools are not required to adhere to the federal civil rights laws that protect those students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided with a free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs. Students who leave public schools with a voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to students under IDEA. As a result, students with disabilities have been systematically excluded from voucher programs around the country. In fact, under the North Carolina program, voucher schools are not even prohibited from refusing to admit students based upon a disability. That just doesn’t make sense.
North Carolina’s already existing voucher programs demonstrate that vouchers don’t work. One analysis shows that a majority of voucher students scored below the 50th percentile on standardized tests two years in a row. Voucher schools in North Carolina also are unaccountable: They don’t have to be accredited or adhere to state curricular or graduation standards. And they can discriminate in their admission process, meaning they can refuse students because of their disability status, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Unfortunately, in North Carolina’s existing voucher programs, the vast majority of public funding goes to private religious schools: 93 percent of vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools. And, like all private schools, they can take taxpayer dollars and then reject students because they are the “wrong” religion or because they have a disability. Government funding of religious discrimination violates the religious freedom of all North Carolinians.
You can let Gov. Cooper know that you oppose this bill, too. Click here for our action alert.