Commentary

Josh Ravitch: Vouchers undermine public education system

March 14, 2014 

I’m writing in reply to Darrell Allison’s guest column about “Opportunity Scholarships,” known as school vouchers to those not trying to conceal that fact.

As a single parent of two grown children who spent their entire K-12 years in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district (CHN, http://bit.ly/1cCWCEJ) I may be able to offer some valuable counterpoints into Mr. Allison’s arguments. I could write volumes, but I’ll stick to making three main points.

1) Let’s start by admitting that our public schools are constantly evolving. Public schools in the 1960s and ’70s were built around drills involving the “3-R’s;” independent, creative thinking mostly was learned at home or when you went off to college. Ditto for advanced concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Nowadays, kids in public schools are learning things we learned in college, and more importantly, are learning critical thinking at a much younger age. New ideas including dual-language programs and IT training and certification classes are constantly percolating in our schools.

While not all public school districts have our resources, they do offer a critical core set of constantly updated competencies not consistently found in private schools, which are not required to meet the same educational standards as public schools and have essentially no public oversight.

2) The Opportunity Scholarship program only subsidizes part of the average private school tuition in North Carolina. Families will have to come up with thousands of dollars to pay for the balance of tuition, as well as supply transportation and lunch, which are not typically provided by private schools.

This means that most of the African-American families whom Mr. Allison claims to want to help will be cut out of the program, and indeed this is backed up by data showing that most of the private schools applying for these programs have historically been greater than 90 percent white. We the taxpayers will have the “opportunity” under the Opportunity Scholarship program to subsidize the private education of rich, white children.

Contrast this to the public school system, where our tax dollars subsidize education, transportation, and lunch for all, including those who can’t afford it, all while encouraging diverse populations to mix and learn from each other in a creative, innovative environment. And speaking of innovation…

3) Most of the private school programs that accept vouchers are among the LEAST innovative schools one could imagine. Many are centered around religious indoctrination, often are unaccredited and have few licensed teachers, and don’t know how to handle children with special needs, whether behaviorally challenged, disabled, or especially gifted. These children are typically dumped back in the public school system, increasing the trend towards de facto re-segregation.

America has an almost 200-year tradition of pooling our resources, talents, and money to provide a public education system that has helped make us the greatest country on earth, a country where other people aspire to come, share in, and help enrich our system. Let’s continue to work together to move that system forward and build a bright future for our children.

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