The GOP is at it again -- trying to give damaging policy ideas a pretty name in hopes that Americans will not notice that the ideas themselves are dangerous. In 2002 it was "Clear Skies," introduced by President George W. Bush as a promise to "cut power plant emissions by 70 percent--much further, faster, more certainly, and more cost-effectively than current law." It was just one of many mistruths from the Bush administration. The reality, as pointed out by Gregg Easterbrook in The New York Times, was that President Bush's proposal was "a shocking assault on clean-air law, an insidious weakening of environmental protections wrapped up with an Orwellian label."
People change -- but seldom. Now the Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature has pushed through a budget that will "drain $500 million out of public education" in the state all while moving $90 million from public schools into private schools via a new voucher program.
This voucher proposal and corresponding cuts to the education budget led North Carolina's independently elected State Superintendent for Public Schools Dr. June Atkinson to remark, "For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care."
And the label that the North Carolina Republican Party has chosen for this new scheme that takes money from the state's students: opportunity scholarships.
Tar Heels are rightly worried. Far from providing opportunities, the new program will only take money from local public schools. These schools serve a core role, not just for the children who attend them, but for the communities that surround them. Stripping funding from public education not only directly hurts kids, but there is an indirect cost to the people who live in those communities as well.
Vouchers are not new, and education leaders throughout the country have looked at the various voucher schools and have concluded that vouchers simply do not improve student achievement. Instead, vouchers create a system where taxpayers' money is spent without public accountability, while resources are stripped from our public and neighborhood schools.
Across the United States, the promise of vouchers has never lived up to reality. They claimed to provide a better education, but The Washington Post has found otherwise--uncovering that "a biology textbook used by a Christian school in Louisiana that will be accepting students with publicly funded vouchers in the fall says that the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland is real."
And the case in Louisiana is not unique. As cited in the US News and World Report ,"there is no evidence vouchers motivate teachers to teach better or students to learn more." And this conclusion comes with the reality that private schools can and do cherry pick the students that they want. On average, religious schools reject 67 percent of all applicants, and elite private schools reject nearly 90 percent of applicants. It is not the parents who are choosing the best schools for their children, but private schools who get to choose the students who they know will make them look the best.
Instead of dressing up a failing policy and hoping that a clever name will make its failures palatable, lawmakers should look to Minnesota on how lawmakers can make meaningful investments in education that go beyond slogans.
The Minnesota Legislature, now under control of Democrats, passed a budget "that boosts funding for public schools over the next two years, funds all-day kindergarten statewide for the first time and retools high school testing requirements."
Instead of providing spin, Democrats in Minnesota added $485 million to the state's education budget -- including $134 million to fund a free all-day kindergarten option for families in every school district in the state.
One of the primary responsibilities of state legislatures is to provide funding for the state's public school system. For Democrats, that responsibility means providing real resources that will ensure that students and teachers have the means to be successful.
For Republicans, it means once again reaching into their bag of spin and double-speak.