School Vouchers and the Enemies of Public Education

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By Lee Quinn, Wake County Teacher

In his defense of the state’s ill-conceived voucher law, Darrell Allison states that “NC simply doesn’t educate poor children well” and that such children are “victims of an inferior educational model”. I fundamentally disagree. His self-serving reasoning follows that the way to improve our public education system is to abandon it and participate actively in its destruction.

While stating that children in our poorest schools tend not to perform well on state tests, he fails to ask the seemingly obvious question of why students at poor schools tend to struggle most on these tests. In declaring that vouchers are a benefit to poor communities, their advocates reveal their underlying assumption: they believe that poor communities are failing their own children, but that poverty itself must have nothing to do with why.

This highly insulting notion reeks of the malfeasance motivating the actions of political voucher advocates. Communities in poverty have poorly performing schools because their students must overcome greater obstacles and challenges to perform at their educational best. It is not due to some intrinsic fault in those students or their teachers that they don’t score as well on bubble tests as wealthier schools, and poverty certainly isn’t a problem that began inside a school.

Does Allison think it’s a coincidence that all of the so-called “failing” schools in our state have unacceptably high degrees of poverty? Or does he believe that poor communities are unable to educate their children, and that the teachers, students, and parents in those communities are to blame for their difficulties?

We know how the anti-public education narrative in the legislature works: declare that public schools are failing, and then make it increasingly difficult for them to succeed by taking away human and financial resources and by treating teachers like piñatas, so that experienced educators leave and our brightest young people shun the profession. Add to that the privatization of schools with vouchers and the expansion of charters, neither of which have an obligation to serve the entire community as public schools do, and you begin to see how the narrative created by the legislature starts to become reality as the result of their own destructive actions,  thus expanding their rationale for further starving our schools of all manner of resources.

There are no educational standards, teacher training, or staff background checks required for the private schools receiving millions in taxpayer subsidized vouchers. Quite literally anybody can teach anything on the taxpayers’ dime with nary an iota of oversight at voucher schools. This lack of accountability means that students can be exposed to a buffet of outlandish ideas in science and history without any academic oversight whatsoever.  Vouchers have nothing to do with “educational freedom” or choice; parents already have the right to send their children to whatever school, teaching whatever curriculum, that they like.

Unlike our public schools, private schools who receive these millions of taxpayer money are not required to submit to the legislature’s asinine A-F “grading” system for schools. That is because the A-F system wasn’t designed to actually measure school performance; it was designed to give legislators another maliciously-conceived and arbitrary way to condemn public schools in order to pave the way for voucher schemes like this one.

It’s not a coincidence that as $17 million was allocated to unaccountable private schools via vouchers, the elimination of  8700 teacher assistant positions –  the largest layoff in North Carolina history – was set into motion. Both actions by the legislature are in concert; they represent the progress of their plan to eviscerate public education and the teaching profession.

We who do the work of educating our children in public schools realize well that our duty is to all of the people of this state. We know well the legislature’s plans for public education, and we seek to shed light on it. At least so far, they can’t gerrymander teachers. Either Mr. Allison is oblivious to the fact that his organization is a pawn in the legislature’s attempts to dismantle public education as a public good, or he is knowingly complicit in that dismantling. Rather than participate in the improvement of this vital pillar of our democracy for all of our children, he and his organization gleefully celebrate and facilitate its enemies.

The way to improve the schools in our poorest communities is not to tear down public education, but to honestly identify and address the causes and conditions of poverty that created these educational challenges in the first place.



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