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Backpacks full of public money are going to private schools

May 16, 2018

via Greensboro News & Record

Article IX of The North Carolina Constitution states: “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free schools, … wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

Examination of the use of taxpayer money for public education in our country is presented in a documentary film, “Backpack Full of Cash.”The film addresses the growing privatization of our public schools and resulting impact on some of our most vulnerable children. “Backpack Full of Cash” will be shown Thursday from 6-8 pm in the Huggins Performance Center in Odell Building on the campus of Greensboro College, 815 W. Market St. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, Public Schools First NC, Guilford County Association of Educators and AAUW of Greensboro, the film is free and open to the public.

The film has direct application to North Carolina. Since the General Assembly’s elimination of a cap of 100 charter schools in 2011, the number had risen to 173 in 2016-17 and continues to rise. Originally charter schools were to serve as laboratory environments where best practices would be shared with traditional public schools, however no innovative best practices from charter schools seem to have been transmitted to the traditional public schools.

“Opportunity Scholarships” are being offered to some parents as alternative to traditional schools. Established in 2013, these “scholarships” use public tax dollars to fund vouchers for students to attend private and parochial schools. In the first year of the program 1,216 vouchers were administered at a cost of $10.84 million. In the 2017-18 academic year 6,775 vouchers were issued at a cost of $44.84 million. Following this trend, the estimated tax dollars expected to be directed toward vouchers by 2028-29 will exceed $1 billion — dollars no longer available to traditional public schools that the bulk of school-age North Carolina students attend.

A paper by The League of Women Voters of Lower Cape Fear, titled “NC Private Schools Receiving Vouchers: A Study of the Curriculum,” reports that approximately 77 percent of all private schools receiving N.C. Opportunity Scholarship vouchers use Bible-based curricula instead of the N.C. standard Course of Study. The report cites research which indicate these curricula do not meet minimally accepted North Carolina standards — a status which could ultimately hinder career choices for students.

“Backpack Full of Cash” acknowledges that many public schools need improvement, especially schools in high-poverty neighborhoods where clustered low-income housing means that whole schools are populated with very poor students. The film suggests that even many of these schools are not failing; but, have highly dedicated teachers and high student academic growth. The film also notes that test scores are the highest ever for U.S. students, including black and Latino students. Dropout rates are the lowest ever. Graduation rates are increasing.

Public education has long been the most democratic institution in America. It is critical that taxpaying citizens understand the consequences of the privatization of public schools.

“Backpack Full of Cash” explores this challenge and the responsibilities required to safeguard public education for students and our state into the future.

Learn more from our Education League Action Team.