I have a copy of the U.S. Constitution on my phone, but that doesn’t make me a constitutional scholar. So I’ll leave it to trained legal minds to decide whether it violates North Carolina’s constitution to use state tax dollars to help send poor children to private schools.
But I like to think I know right from wrong, and even when an issue has many right sides, I like to think I know which right is most right.
In 2013, the N.C. General Assembly set aside $10 million to help poor children from low-performing schools attend the private school of their choice. Immediately, a number of groups sued, arguing that the N.C. Constitution prohibits using public money to pay private K-12 school tuition.
I am perhaps splitting hairs to note that the public money would go to parents, not to private schools. But in splitting hairs, I am acknowledging that the voucher program might be on shaky constitutional ground.
At the same time, I can’t get past what the vouchers are intended to do: Allow poor children to escape failing schools.
Affluent parents can afford to send their children to private schools, and they do; statewide, private K-12 schools enroll about 96,000 young people. True, North Carolina offers an alternative to the traditional public school. But the state’s charter schools aren’t the egalitarian institutions they claim to be, because they don’t provide transportation to and from school, putting poorer families at a disadvantage.
That means poor children in failing public schools are trapped in those schools because they cannot afford private-school tuition or the cost of transportation to a high-performing charter school.
Last year, the General Assembly set aside money to help a small fraction of poor children escape failing schools. I don’t know if that’s constitutional, but I do know it’s right. Poor children deserve the same educational opportunity as their wealthy peers.