This is what “school choice” looks like.
As North Carolina’s public schools remain woefully underfunded, millions of taxpayer dollars are siphoned into private schools that teach through a “biblical worldview” and discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, passed by the General Assembly in 2013, provides state-funded vouchers to eligible families to pay tuition at the private school of their choice. The program has cost the state upwards of $150 million since its inception, diverting funds away from public education in the process.
Supporters of the program — primarily Republicans — say it promotes school choice, extending equity and opportunity to lower-income students who otherwise may not have the means to attend private schools. But there’s not much accountability for private schools who receive state money.
Although Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, federal law states that religious private schools can claim exemptions to Title IX “to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.” As a result, many private religious schools in North Carolina that receive funds through the Opportunity Scholarship Program have policies that target LGBTQ+ people, the Charlotte Observer reported. One school’s handbook says it can refuse admission or “discontinue enrollment” of a student “practicing homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
In addition, private schools aren’t bound by state standards or a state-mandated curriculum, so they’re free to teach students as they see fit. A 2020 report from Duke Law School’s Children’s Law Clinic found that 92% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools. More than three-quarters of those schools use a biblically-based curriculum with concepts that directly contradict the state’s educational standards, the report said. At least some of these schools use textbooks from publishers that offer a troubling view of history, reporting from the Asheville Citizen-Times shows.
Republicans say that schools should be a place for truth, not ideology. But that only seems to be a problem when the ideology is something they disagree with. We’ve seen Republicans accuse teachers and public schools of indoctrinating students, and pass legislation that limits the discussion of concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism. Private schools, however, regularly mix ideology, curriculum and policy. After all, teaching through a “biblical worldview” could also be considered subjective.
Private schools have the right to teach what they want, of course, but public money shouldn’t fund efforts to use a worldview to discriminate. Public money should come with public accountability. But North Carolina’s accountability measures for the voucher program are among the weakest in the nation, Duke’s report said. In states such as Wisconsin, private schools must meet certain accreditation, academic and teacher licensing standards in order to participate in the program. North Carolina’s program does not include such requirements.
Meanwhile, the money that legislators are using to privatize education is going to waste. As funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program continues to grow, North Carolina’s per-pupil spending remains among the lowest in the nation, and the state continues to forego its constitutional obligation to provide every student with a sound basic education.
Children don’t need taxpayer-funded private school choice; they need a high-quality education. Time and again, North Carolina has failed to give them that.
Today’s editorial is from The Charlotte Observer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.