Op-Ed: Private School Vouchers Violate NC’s ‘Moral Obligation’ to Provide Public Education

Jessica Landis, center, with Chance Spieser, 3, and Harmony Spieser, a rising 5th grader in New Hanover County public schools. They attended a public school rally in Raleigh on June 21. (Photo by Michael McElroy)

By Tamika Walker Kelly

June 26, 2023

The head of the North Carolina Association of Educators says proposed legislation would benefit wealthy families but do nothing to address urgent issues in public schools.

Tamika Walker Kelly spoke at a rally last week opposing legislation that would expand private school vouchers while taking money away from public schools. Walker Kelly adapted this op-ed from her delivered remarks. 

Last week, it was my privilege to address a rally of public school supporters including educators, parents, students, and allies.

It was thrilling to see such a beautiful representation of North Carolina in the room showing up to support our students and our public school professionals, as we fight for a state budget that puts public education first.

Our state budget is not just a mathematical document of figures and numbers. It is a representation of our values.

In this state, we all share a common goal: improving the outcomes and achievement of every single student in our state and ensuring that our students have a qualified educator in every classroom. And that means meeting the critical need to fully fund our public schools and provide the resources that our professionals and our students need to succeed.

We need a state budget that invests in the lasting change needed to fund the future of North Carolina’s students.

We need a budget that ensures that every single student, no matter where they live or what they look like, has what they need to succeed.

What we have right now is a House and Senate budget proposal that continues to expand private school vouchers. It creates two taxpayer-funded systems – one public and one private.

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence that voucher programs actually improve student performance.

Instead, these vouchers take scarce resources from our public schools – where the majority of our working families send their children to learn and grow. But every student in our state deserves access to an education that instills a love of learning and the skills that prepare them for the future. That’s not happening for every student right now in North Carolina. Instead, special interest groups have helped create a system that prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of our public school students.

In North Carolina, we are currently experiencing an unprecedented staffing shortage of more than 5,000 vacancies. But corporations have more power and they pay less in taxes. So instead of addressing this crisis, our state is on the verge of expanding a private school voucher program that would benefit those who already have the most. Expanded opportunity scholarships would go to families who can already afford many opportunities and send their children to private schools with no accountability measures in place.

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Public education is a constitutional right in this state. Most importantly, it is also a moral obligation for our children.

Our public schools are open to all people, no matter their zip code, no matter their religion, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation abilities, or how much money they have. Our public schools are the foundation of our democracy.

And so at this moment, while special interest groups are working to divide us along our differences, we also must be working. We must speak up and make sure that our lawmakers know that we don’t want two separate and unequal systems. We want one strong public school system for the state of North Carolina. Our students deserve so much better. We, as North Carolinians, deserve so much better.

So now is the time. You are not passive bystanders.

You need to call your superintendent. You need to talk to your state representatives. And you need to let them know the harm that the expansion of private school vouchers will do to our school districts, because ultimately, we are stronger together and we can make our voices heard.

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