LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A threat to public education

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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The N.C. General Assembly is proposing to divert millions of taxpayer dollars, in an arguably unconstitutional manner, away from the public schools and into the hands of private and parochial schools with none of the transparency and accountability required of the public schools.

Senate Bill 406 and House Bill 832 will use tax dollars to support “opportunity scholarships” for the private education of children, not just from low-wealth families but, for the first time, to wealthy families and those already enrolled in private schools. SB406 would provide more than $2.2 billion of taxpayer money for private school vouchers over 10 years.

Egregiously, the General Assembly is allowing these private and religious schools to discriminate against the children of the state based on religious beliefs and the personal characteristics of voucher applicants. Private and parochial schools can pick and choose students who align with their beliefs and reject others. The public schools are open to all regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation and religious or political beliefs.

It was the genius of the 1868 N.C. Constitution which, in Article 9, made clear that a responsibility of state government is to provide for a free public education for all the children of the state, including children who were historically denied that opportunity due to race, religion or financial resources. The N.C. Constitution did not include provisions for financing private and religious education with public tax dollars.

North Carolina’s Republican and Democrat governors and enlightened leaders of the General Assembly have long championed, if not always well-financed, public education in North Carolina. Rather than divert millions of tax dollars to unaccountable private and often discriminatory schools, the General Assembly should address the unmet needs of the public schools (mostly rural) across North Carolina, as documented in the long-standing Leandro Case.

Embarrassingly, North Carolina now ranks 50th in school funding and 48th in overall funding level according to the most recent “Making the Grade” report by the Education Law Center.

Beginning teacher pay in N.C. is now below every state in the Southeast, except West Virginia. N.C. is now nearly $12,000 below the national average for teacher pay. Mississippians can now say, “Thank God for N.C.”

The ideology driving these twin bills is intended to degrade public education. They shift the scales of responsibility from doing what is best for the common good of the people of North Carolina to a self-serving “what’s in it for me?” — at taxpayer expense.

The great majority of North Carolinians love and support local public schools and teachers. They also know that a well-educated, civically engaged public is key to creating and sustaining a flourishing state in which to live.

We understand what our nation’s founding fathers understood that public education is essential to maintaining a democracy. The diversion of public money to private and religious education not only undermines our public schools, but it also undermines our free and democratic society.

Urge the General Assembly to reject SB406/HB823.

Charles R. Coble
Oakboro native