Of all the self-interested scams perpetrated by school "reformers" against public education, the school voucher scam may be the most dishonest.
In their undiluted form, these programs are a sop to right wingers and religious fanatics convinced that teaching children that the Founding Fathers were all upstanding Christian gentlemen and evolution should be doubted somehow prepares them for life in the 21st century.
This week in Raleigh, N.C., a judge named Robert Hobgood called out North Carolina's version of the swindle for what it was: a raid on the state treasury. His target was the state's $10-million Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was to go into effect with the upcoming school year.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Hobgood, ruling in a case brought by the state teachers association and an advocacy group for low-income residents, found the program to be "unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt," and designed chiefly to relieve the state of the responsibility for educating the children of low-income families. His decision, issued from the bench Thursday, put an immediate stop to the program's disbursements to private schools.
A transcript of the ruling is here. The state says it will appeal.
Hobgood distilled the flaws--call them evils--of voucher programs into a series of concise findings. Among them:
"Private schools receiving Opportunity Scholarships are not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, are given no requirement for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time."
The voucher law, he observed, doesn't require that the recipient schools "provide their students with instruction in any subject," or that teachers or principals "be trained, certified, or qualified," or that the schools themselves be "certified by any public or private agency."
The state legislature, he wrote, "fails the children of North Carolina when they (are) sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything." Such a scheme "serves only private interests."
The legislature "is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into nonpublic schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools."
State officials in the courtroom asked Hobgood to stay his order until it could be appealed, because of "the impact of interrupting the program at this time."
No dice, he said. He checked his watch, and said the program was suspended as of that moment, 10:23 a.m.
School vouchers have become a favorite policy proposal for Republican politicians who apparently won't be satisfied until every public program is wrecked through privatization. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is a big fan, though the evidence is that the voucher program he implemented in his state is shot through with creationist claptrap and is increasing school segregation.
Despite that, Louisiana-style vouchers are a key plank in the education platform of Neel Kashkari, the GOP candidate for California governor. That's an alarming sign that Kashkari, who has the academic and career credentials of a smart person, is willing to pander shamelessly to the right wing to get attention. He ought to read Hobgood's lesson from the bench before pushing this crackpot idea any further.
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