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July 31, 2013

The North Carolina legislature recently passed a budget that cuts almost $500 million from public schools and shifts taxpayer dollars to religious and private schools through vouchers, while also eliminating teacher job protection, increasing class sizes, and granting tax cuts to the wealthy.

"This budget reflects a very aggressive campaign to privatize public education and dismantle the teaching profession," said Yevonne Brannon of Public Schools First NC, as reported in the Charlotte Observer. "We're just paddling backward as fast as we can go."

North Carolina's school funding system is one of the worst in the nation, according to the best available analysis of state funding systems, "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card." The state is one of only three that received low ratings on all four quality indicators in the report. Compared to other states, North Carolina ranks low on average spending per pupil, which is a direct result of the state's lack of "fiscal effort" for school funding.

The low level of funding provided is distributed unfairly, earning North Carolina an "F" in funding distribution. The state's funding system provides high poverty districts dramatically less funding per pupil than wealthy districts. On average, high poverty districts have only 78 cents to spend for every dollar spent by wealthy districts. The state's approach defies both common sense and research, which shows that extra resources are required to meet the challenges facing districts serving low-income children.

With the budget adopted this week, the state's low teacher salaries, ranked 48th in the nation, will be flat over the next two years. The new budget also includes $12 million to support Teach For America.

Vouchers begin in the second year of North Carolina's two-year budget. As reported by the News & Observer, religious and private schools that accept these taxpayer-funded vouchers will not need to be accredited, as public schools must be, nor will they have to administer the same standardized tests as public schools. In addition, the voucher schools can use selective admissions procedures, while public schools cannot. State Representative Marcus Brandon explained that he wanted the accreditation language to be weak because he wants churches and neighborhood centers in poor communities to be able to start schools, the News & Observer wrote.

North Carolina's voucher programs are sometimes termed neovouchers because public funds do not travel directly to private schools, but rather move indirectly via tax credits. This transfer mechanism is typically used to get around state constitutional provisions against spending public money on parochial schools.

No matter the method used to transfer public funds, long-standing voucher school experiments have failed to improve academic success and often fail to provide access for low-income families. They can also lead to fraud, as in Milwaukee's voucher program, discrimination against students with disabilities, and segregation by race and income.

Appearing to be a small bright spot for education in the new budget, the funding for 2,500 preschool slots is more than offset by the expiration of 5,000 slots this month. Even at its peak, in 2010-11, North Carolina's preschool program served fewer than half of the eligible four-year-olds in the state.

Lower court rulings, which ordered the state to admit all "at-risk" four-year-olds who apply to its preschool program, are now before the state supreme court on the state's appeal in the long-standing Leandro v. State litigation. Several organizations filed amicus briefs on July 24.

Alexandra Forter Sirota of the North Carolina Justice Center said, "The final [budget] deal North Carolinians must live with is a giant step backwards. It cuts taxes for the wealthiest, and takes away the highly effective state Earned Income Tax Credit from low-income working families."

"We'll all pay the price for this sweet deal for the wealthy and for profitable corporations. Our state will be the poorer for it," she added.

Related Stories:
Charters and "Choice" Increase Segregation and Reduce Achievement for Black Students In North Carolina
Vouchers Fail, Yet Politicians Want More
Voucher Schools Must Not Discriminate Against Students with Disabilities
"We Are Very Proud of Our Teachers"
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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