Will North Carolina see a spurt of new private schools opening in 2014-15, when $4,200 "opportunity scholarships" become available for low-income students?
Superintendent Heath Morrison, no fan of sending public money to private schools, says the Florida system that served as the model for North Carolina's new vouchers sparked a round of new private schools, some of which closed or did a poor job of educating students. Jonathan Sink, the CMS legislative liaison, said he'd expect to see area churches open schools to take advantage of the scholarships.
Morrison noted with skepticism that $4,200 a year isn't enough to cover tuition at most private schools in the Charlotte area. The most prestigious schools, such as Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin and Providence Day School, run about $20,000 a year. A study by the pro-voucher Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina pegged Mecklenburg's median tuition at $7,750 to $9,565, depending on grade level.
Everyone's still figuring out the details of the new program, but Franz said it appears to be similar to the privately-funded Children's Scholarship Fund, which he considers a successful approach. Most independent schools aren't interested in government money if it comes with strings attached, Franz said, but the opportunity scholarships appear to leave the decision-making to the independent boards that run the schools.
Franz agrees with Morrison that the opportunity to get public money may inspire new schools to open, and that some of them may be poor quality. The same could be said of new charter schools springing up, he said -- some will be excellent and some will be weak.
Charter schools, like traditional public schools, must give their students state exams and be rated on the results (A-F letter grades will debut in August 2014). Morrison questioned why private schools that take tax money won't be held to the same accountability standards.
Darrell Allison, president of PEFNC, says vouchers aren't likely to inspire successful students to leave good public schools. Instead, he says, it's a chance for students who aren't thriving to leave schools that aren't serving them well. And his group contends that if a student gets a better education for $4,200 in public money -- compared with more than $8,000 per pupil in public schools -- it's not only a good deal for the family but for taxpayers.