Guest post by Dr. Terry Stoops
For many years, state education and political leaders promised increasing our “investment” in public schools was the key to raising student achievement for disadvantaged students. And invest we did, increasing inflation-adjusted per pupil spending by nearly 25 percent in the last 20 years alone.
Yet, two decades later, disadvantaged children in North Carolina public schools continue to struggle. Last year, only 28 percent of low-income students in grades 3-8 were proficient in math. Around 29 percent were proficient in reading. That means that about seven out of 10 students in public elementary and middle schools are not proficient in math and reading as measured by state standardized tests.
Acknowledging that the “throw money at the problem” approach was a failure, Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly decided to change course. In 2013, legislators championed a research-based approach to raising student performance — a private school voucher program for families who, unlike the wealthy, do not have the means to provide educational options for their children.
The program was new, but the idea wasn’t. Even when Democrats were in charge of state government, North Carolina had long relied on private and religious institutions to provide schooling and educational services for toddlers, college students, and those in between. State agencies continue to direct taxpayer money to private (often sectarian) preschools, universities, and facilities for special-needs children. Faith-based organizations, churches, and private entities annually receive millions in grant money to provide educational services for at-risk elementary and secondary school students, among others.