Bye-bye to serious education

Tucked into North Carolina’s budget is an allowance for what we think may be the most dangerous thing for education since the pedagogic creed of John Dewey – a provision seemingly born of as much naiveté as it is of fiscal irresponsibility and shortsightedness.

Under the new budget, already approved by both the N.C. House and Senate (after Gov. Cooper veto and subsequent General Assembly override), is the establishment of a personal educational savings account. Called a “voucher program on steroids,” it builds on the allowance put in place in 2013 to provide funds for low-income students to attend private schools.

Under the current voucher program, money is funneled directly from the government to private educational institutions. Under the new budget, however, parents of students with disabilities can be given into a PESA up to $9,000 annually. This is where the naiveté comes in. A debit card is used to access funds, which can be used for items like tuition at a private school, textbooks, tutoring, extracurricular programs, educational technology, and therapies.

Even as it stands now, limited to children with disabilities, we see problems. The provision stipulates the money can be spent on tuition, but it doesn’t require it. It does require that parents release the public school system from any responsibility to educate the child, but if parents care more about drugs than they do their children’s education, they pull them out and collect drug money while their children sit at home and become experts at Call of Duty or the sexual exploits of the Brady, Horton, and DiMera families.

Surely, you say, the bill requires accountability. Yes, but overwhelmingly no. Only $450,000 has been set aside for program for the rollout year (2017-18) and the bill actually states that only 6 percent of the applications will be audited each year. Some possible abuses include:

– Parents spend the money on TVs, manicures, or another car, hoping they’ll be in the 94 percent not audited.

– Parents buy an approved expenditure, then return it for cash, knowing it’s not likely they’ll receive a home visit to actually lay eyes on the merchandise. The bill says this is prohibited, but …

– Some enterprising individual with four children decides to open a school. (The bill disallows the money being used for home schools, but anyone can open a private school if their home meets the requirements.) She gets all four of her children labelled emotionally disturbed and convinces two other families to do the same. She quits her job making minimum wage, enrolls all the children in the “school,” returns her friends’ money to them, and they all sit at home with their children living off the $36,000 per family the government gave them for having undisciplined and belligerent children.

In this latter scenario, the government is actually paying people to keep their children at home, which is where the shortsightedness and fiscal irresponsibility come in. Currently, there’s no financial benefit to keeping a child at home. Anyone who home schools, in fact, pays out of pocket for expenses, and the hardship, combined with the responsibility of educating a child, is undertaken by relatively few when compared with other methods of education.

However, under the bill, uncaring parents will actually have possibly a $40,000 incentive for having hard-to-manage children, then taking them out of school and keeping them at home. That’s a lot of bait.

A drain on society fiscally, plus a future generation of uneducated students who know nothing but getting around the system and government handouts – what’s the up side here? We think North Carolina lawmakers have nailed the coffin shut on public education, effectively begged for increased numbers of students with special needs, and are ushering in an era of non-education in the state.

Even John Dewey, we believe, would roll over in his grave.