Taxes should support public, not private schools

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 01:53 PM

Freshman Rep. Mark Brody of Union County and his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature have plans for a host of new private schools that would siphon students away from public schools. And they want taxpayers to foot the bill.

That is not exactly how Rep. Brody characterized the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” in his interview with reporter Carolyn Steeves this week, but that is exactly what it would do.

Republicans this session have dressed up their annual effort to get public funding for private schools using politically correct language and talking points, but it is the same old voucher program they have floated in the past. Only this time the spin is thicker.

Brody described the $40 million program as offering opportunity scholarships to low-income families to give them more options.

“The intent is to give people more options, more freedom of choice,” he said.

But choice is not the issue. Parents have always had the choice of where to educate their children. They make that choice by picking a place to live near good schools, or by sending their children to parochial or private schools. The only real choice facing parents is whether they are willing to pay the price of exercising their option of sending their children to a private school.

The bill Brody is backing would take $6,700 away from public school and provide a “scholarship” of $4,200 for eligible children, while the state squirrels away the extra $2,500 in a fund that will provide even more scholarships next year. And so on.

Brody thinks the $4,200 will be plenty.

“... what’s going to be encouraged is the starting of individual private schools,” he said. “You can educate your child in a private school setting for a lot less.”

But the real question is whether they are being educated as well. Union County schools in particular regularly lead the state in performance and test scores.  Can unregulated private schools deliver the same? You cannot get a Charlotte Latin-type education for $4,200 a year.

And just who are these “low-income” families that will get a chance to choose a better education for their children?

The bill sets income limits for the scholarship at 300 percent above the poverty level. According to Department of Health and Human Services figures, that would set income eligibility at $70,650. That hardly seems low income in Union County where the median household income is $62,387.

Public schools are an investment that a society makes not to serve the best and brightest but rather to ensure that even the least capable are equipped with the skills and opportunities to succeed in life. That is an investment of tax dollars that benefits us all. Spending tax dollars to create a web of private schools that have the potential of undermining public education is not.