Raleigh Republicans introduced a bill that would take $1 billion from public schools and give it to anyone who would like to send their children to a private school, regardless of need or income level.
House Bill 420 would allow all families to use taxpayer dollars to fund tuition at private and parochial schools. Unlike public schools, these schools have no requirements to demonstrate students are learning. There is also no mandate that they provide transportation or free/reduced lunches. Private schools also have the authority to deny access to students based on religion, identity and academic achievement.
This shifting of funds from public to private schools will impact rural communities the hardest. Many of our rural counties’ largest employers are the public school systems. As funds are siphoned off, jobs will be eliminated, which will have a devastating effect on local economies.
North Carolina has the second-largest rural student population in the country and due to a lack of local tax resources, relies heavily on state-provided funds. It’s possible that 80 out of the 100 counties in North Carolina will lose their public schools as hubs of the community if this legislation were to become law.
According to a recent op-ed in WRAL additional impacts of this law on all communities would be:
- Potential for Fraud: While public schools have many requirements to ensure responsible spending of taxpayer dollars when public funds are used for private schooling, it is complicated to ensure that the money is being spent on education. Other states have seen rampant fraud following legislation similar to HB 420 including taxpayer dollars being used to fund living expenses and even medical procedures.
- Incompatibility with Families’ Beliefs: The vast majority of schools currently receiving Opportunity Scholarship voucher dollars are religious, and those schools may take actions that are in opposition to parents’ views or deny admission based on a family’s religious choices or sexual orientation. One private school in Fayetteville made the news in 2022 after 100 students were baptized without the consent of their parents. That school received nearly $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars this year. Several of the schools receiving over $1 million in taxpayer-funded vouchers this year forbid students or educators who identify as LGBTQ to be affiliated with the school.
- Lack of Accountability: Taxpayers deserve to know how our taxpayer dollars are being spent. Our public schools are held accountable for students’ academic outcomes and must provide data on attendance, academic achievement, discipline, and more, and are held accountable for students’ academic outcomes. Our current voucher system only requires school-selected test scores to be reported if over 25 students who receive vouchers attend the same school.
It’s clear that our communities will be heavily negatively impacted by this bill that prioritizes the select few over the rest of North Carolina. Students, families, and businesses all stand to lose if our rural schools are denied even more funding. Lawmakers have been mandated by our state constitution to provide every student with a quality education. This bill only further erodes our public schools and creates an even wider urban/rural divide.
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