What voucher advocates aren't telling you

By Jason Langberg | Apr 22, 2013

RALEIGH - My “day job” involves providing legal services for students from low-income families. So, I know firsthand that students’ rights provide needed protections and, if followed, promote academic achievement, equity and fairness.

Unfortunately, state lawmakers are working to have more students from lower-income families in private schools where they'll have few of the rights possessed by public school students. On April 15th, legislators filed a voucher bill (House Bill 944) that, over the next two years, would drain $90 million from public education, which is already abysmally funded, to give to private entities.

The sponsors of the bill will trot out well-compensated salespeople who'll deceive the public with misleading names for vouchers, like “scholarships,” which implies individualized, merit-based determinations. They'll use words like “freedom” and “choice” ad nauseam but won't tell audiences that vouchers (capped at $4,200/year or 90% of total tuition and fees) won't provide many poor families with enough money to pay full tuition and fees. 
They also won't tell you private schools are under no obligation to accept students with vouchers. 

They certainly won't say that vouchers haven't been shown to improve student achievement. 

They'll bash public education relentlessly but won't mention the tremendous damage vouchers cause public schools or how $90,000,000 could be used to support their students in public schools. 

They'll pretend that vouchers are about children though they're really about profit and education on the cheap.

Like doctors prescribing medicine without mentioning side effects, they'll fail to mention that students will shed most of their rights at the private schoolhouse gates. 

Since they won't, I will. Parents, if you use a voucher and your child...

…is failing academically? Sorry. Students in public schools who’re at risk of academic failure have a right to a Personal Education Plan that includes a diagnostic assessment, interventions, and progress monitoring. Not in private schools.

…has a disability? Too bad. Students in public schools who have a disability and need special education services have a right to an Individualized Education Program, to a free and appropriate education, and to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. Not in private schools. Private schools don't even have to admit exceptional children.

…is disciplined without due process? Oh well. Students in public schools who’re facing long-term suspension or expulsion have a right to written notice, a hearing before a neutral decision maker, and other procedural rights. Not in private schools.

…is discriminated against based on gender, race, or national origin? You're outta’ luck, unless your private school receives federal funding.

…isn’t allowed to exercise her right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion? Doesn’t matter. Private schools don’t have to respect the First Amendment.

…is bullied? Can't help you. State bullying laws don't apply to private schools.

…doesn't have transportation? Tough. Public school students get free transportation to and from school. Not students in many private schools.

…doesn't practice a religion or the same religion as the only nearby private schools? C’est la vie.

…isn't receiving a good education? Bummer. The State Constitution’s requirement that students have an opportunity to receive a sound, basic education doesn't apply to private schools.

I realize some private schools provide an excellent education and self-impose many of the laws governing public schools, but they aren't required to, not even under House Bill 944. I also recognize that public education has serious problems, but vouchers aren't the solution and, in fact, will make things worse. 

Finally, I trust parents to decide what's best for their own children, but they should be able to make fully informed decisions. They have a right to know what rights they're giving up. If North Carolina legalizes school vouchers, they will be giving up a lot.

Jason Langberg is an attorney who works on education justice issues. His practice is statewide, with a focus in Wake County.

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