The state’s new voucher system for education has been halted now that a Superior Court judge has ruled to suspend the program.
The voucher program was set to hold a lottery next month to award 2,400 students, mostly low-income students, up to $4,200 each for the next school year, according to WRAL.
On the surface it may seem to be an outrageous decision. Who would want to do away with a program that would offer educational opportunities to children? After all, nearly 5,000 people have applied, according to the News & Observer.
But, as is the case with many previous voucher programs, the one passed last year poses a number of both constitutional and educational problems.
A major issue with the program was whether or not the state constitution allows for public funding to private schools, which states that funds “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”
This provides little room for public funding of private education. On a moral and ethical level, it also stands to reason that tax money should go largely, if not exclusively, to supporting a public system for all.
Perhaps what is more troubling than the issue of education funding is the issue of religion.
Many parents are seeking to send their kids to religious schools with the public money from the program. The Greensboro Islamic Academy, the Victory Christian Center School in Charlotte and Al-Imam School in Raleigh received more than 300 applications collectively, the News & Observer reports.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that an Ohio voucher program was legal because it met certain standards, including serving a “valid secular purpose,” giving aid money to individuals, not schools, and ensuring a variety of school options. Under that standard, the voucher program may clear federal constitution hurdles.
Still, that does not make it right. Public money provided by taxpayers should not go to subsidizing private religious choices. Aside from constitutional problems, there is the issue of what educational benefits vouchers may offer.
A July 2006 report by the United States Department of Education found that when results were adjusted for individual characteristics, the differences were minimal between public and private schools in the subjects of reading and math. In some instances, the public schools even performed better than the private ones.
The voucher system is deeply flawed. Now that it has been suspended, we should find other ways of improving education.
Instead of pursuing this voucher program further, the state should instead find ways to provide quality education that does not involve public funds for religious institutions, or for a program that would likely do little to improve outcomes.
Kevin Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.