Clamp a Damper On Voucher Idea
H ere's one "option" on which North Carolina legislators should opt out. Predictably, with the Republicans having now consolidated their governmental powers at the state level, the idea of school "vouchers," a system under which public tax money would be used to support private schools at the elementary and secondary levels, has again raised its head in Raleigh. The sooner that concept can sink back down into oblivion, where it belongs, the better.
The public schools in Moore County and elsewhere are already hard up, as anyone can tell you who feels frequently barraged by pleas to help with various fundraising efforts for supplies and activities that should be covered routinely through tax money. Teachers themselves often have to dig into their own pockets to pay for classroom necessities. Budgets are stretched to the breaking point.
This is, therefore, an especially inappropriate time to be talking about siphoning away any of the money that now is supposed to be going to public schools and routing it instead into "vouchers" that parents would be enabled to cash in to help make it possible to enroll their kids in private schools instead.
A Foot in the Door
To be sure, the proposals that have surfaced to this point would not go very far toward covering the full cost of private school tuition. Vouchers, as now envisioned by supporters of proposals bouncing around the legislative halls, would provide something in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $3,000 per year per pupil.
Still, that sounds like a classic case of letting the camel get its head under the tent, as the old saying goes. Next thing you know, the whole animal is snuggling comfortably inside.
The concept of public schools is one rooted in American history - and one that has served North Carolina particularly well.
Public schools aren't just there for the benefit of individual parents or households alone. They were created, and continue to be sustained, out of an awareness that a high-quality education made available to the widest segment of the public serves an important civic purpose. And the line between public and private schools should be kept as distinct as that between, say, church and state.
Keep the Line Unblurred
Public schools will always have an important role to play - especially for families that prefer a particular kind of education, often a religiously based one, for the children.
But the understanding has always been that those parents who desire to provide a private education for their children have to be willing to pay for it.
Blurring this time-honored distinction by dipping into public funds for the purpose of financing even part of a private education has always been a bad idea. But it does seem especially objectionable in this time of severe economic stress, when state funding of public education has long since gone beyond trimming fat and is now having to cut into flesh and bone.
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