In the life of a politician one thing is certain - another election is on the horizon. In essence, this means that she or he must always think ahead; not unlike a chess player. The question, of course, is how far ahead the politician willing or able to think. North Carolina's Republican legislators are probably wondering if they thought far enough ahead when they decided to make sweeping changes to the state's public school landscape earlier this year. Also, did they consider the potential legal challenges to their decisions? Earlier this week the North Carolina Association of Educators, along with the North Carolina Justice Center filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the General Assembly's decision to implement a voucher program, otherwise known as the "Opportunity Scholarship." The plaintiffs challenge this decision on constitutional grounds, but the question all of us should be asking is far more simple: at a time when our state's education budget cannot afford salary increases for teachers, or incentive pay for those with graduate degrees, why are we offering select low income families $4200 to supplement the cost of a private school tuition? Can't we find better use for the $10 million appropriated for the voucher program while we are cutting teacher aides and increasing class sizes? The lawsuit will certainly focus on legal issues - especially the constitutionality of the voucher program. It seems, however, that this issue has more to do with common sense and good stewardship of limited dollars than anything else. It would make much more sense to invest in improving our failing schools rather than simply giving up on them and shipping a handful of students to private institutions that are essentially unregulated. Some decisions are "no brainers" and this is one of them. Members of the General Assembly need to admit their mistake and reconsider the voucher program. Such a program does not support our state's education goals. North Carolina's first priority must be to improve its public school system. This means that we need to locate and hire the very best teachers, provide them with competitive wages, make sure they are provided with the best possible work environment, and increase the per student funding allocation. A state that supports vouchers is saying that it does not have confidence in its public school system. This is not the kind of message North Carolina should be advertising.
December 13, 2013