Op-Ed: School vouchers are un-American

Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images

By Graig Meyer

March 4, 2024

What’s our most important institution for bringing community together? Public School.

Yes, our local public schools educate our kids. Yes, they develop their passions for sports or the arts. Yes, they prepare our kids to get a good job. And yes, public schools connect our children with trusted teachers and mentors who help raise them and guide them.

On top of all of the amazing things public schools deliver directly to our children, they also play a role that no other institution can. They help us learn how to be one people.

While as adults we may find ourselves divided—by race, language, income, politics, religion and more—at our local public schools, our kids play together, learn together, and grow together. Every schoolyard interaction is an opportunity to understand people who are different from them.

And it doesn’t stop with the kids. As adults, many of our friendships form with the parents of our children’s kids. We stand along the sidelines with them at games. We compare notes about our kids’ successes and struggles. We work together towards common goals through the PTA or booster club. All of these connections happen because we believe in the importance of our kids going to school with one another.

All of these interactions are what make public schools essential to our democracy. We have to have institutions that make us all feel that we share something. We need opportunities to care for each other, even when we don’t vote the same way. Our public schools are the single most fundamental thing holding the United States together.

If we lose that bond, what else will keep us from drifting even further apart than we are already?

That’s why I’m so concerned about North Carolina’s newly expanded private school voucher program. The so-called “opportunity scholarships” will contribute to driving us apart by making it easier for parents and their children to avoid the important work of community building.

Public and private schools don’t reflect the same values: while public schools serve their entire community, private schools pick who they are willing to serve—and who they will exclude. Some exclude gay kids by rule. Others exclude poor kids and families by failing to provide transportation. Others exclude kids with learning differences by failing to provide them with necessary services.

Vouchers then shift money from our inclusive system to exclusive institutions.

Three problems result:

First, because most private schools cost much more than a voucher provides, vouchers are primarily simply a tax refund for rich folks who have already decided to separate their kids from the larger community.

Second, to the extent less affluent families find cheaper options, private school vouchers can lead to substandard education. Many voucher-funded schools don’t use a strong, research-based curriculum. They don’t have opportunities for things like career-focused education. We don’t even know if kids are learning to read or do math, because they don’t have to use the same types of tests that public schools do.

Third, vouchers starve our public schools. Over the next decade, North Carolina will spend at least $1.7 billion on vouchers. That’s money that our public schools won’t get. Even parents worried about the quality of their local public schools recognize that taking money away from those schools will send them into a downward spiral.

Our money should go to the schools that bind us together and make our democracy stronger. If parents want to pay for an exclusive school, they certainly have the right. But it angers me that our taxes pay for schools that emphasize difference over unity and that serve only parts of the community.

The dream of America is a country where all can find a path to success no matter where you start from.

When we fund public schools adequately, we reinforce this ideal. We build communities where all of us can succeed and where, despite our differences, we find ways to live and thrive together.

Vouchers, on the other hand, admit defeat on the promise of this country. They are un-American. And as a long standing public servant and a patriot, I am not ready to give up. I hope you won’t either.




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