The more details you hear about the state’s startlingly unaccountable private school voucher scheme and the questionable schools now receiving taxpayer money, the more troubling it all seems.
In an election year dominated by a back and forth over education issues, it’s baffling why the problems with the voucher program that diverts public money to private schools hasn’t received more attention.
The latest revelation comes from a story  this week by NC Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner about the school that has received the most $4,200 vouchers so far, the Greensboro Islamic Academy.
The school appears to be in financial trouble, Wagner reports, as an online fundraising campaign to address a $150,000 budget shortfall has only brought in a few hundred dollars according to school’s websites.
State officials received 170 applications from students seeking a voucher to attend the school this fall that had only 130 students enrolled last year. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the voucher scheme is working its way through the courts and the Court of Appeals recently ruled that the state must distribute the vouchers already awarded to students with the rest on hold pending the final outcome of the case.
Greensboro Islamic Academy has received 43 vouchers totaling more than $90,000 in taxpayer funds, far and away the most of any of the 109 schools that have received voucher payments.
It also appears the school has raised tuition in the wake of the voucher program. Wagner reports that the application for the academy two years ago listed the annual tuition as $2,850 per student for class sizes smaller than 10. Students in larger classes could pay $1,950.
In the current school year the rates for the larger classes increased to $4,360, roughly the same as the $4,200 the vouchers are worth.
What happens if the school’s financial problems force it to close its doors or suspend its operations? The public money is gone and there’s apparently no way to recover it, an obvious problem with the whole voucher program.
You would think the voucher law would have some mechanisms to ensure the financial stability of the schools receiving public money, but there are none. Schools could be in serious financial difficulty or even on the verge of collapsing and the state would never know before disbursing the funds.
And the lack of accountability with the voucher scheme is not limited to financial issues that put taxpayer money at risk.
Wagner reported last year about a voucher-eligible school in Davidson County with three students and one teacher that meets in a private home, basically a home school that may receive public funds.
That school, like many fundamentalist schools that receive vouchers, also uses textbooks that teach students that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that gay people have no more claims to civil rights than child molesters or rapists.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said in a ruling against the voucher program that it “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.”
The schools also don’t have any obligation to demonstrate that they are financially stable and won’t simply take the public money and disappear.
And all this thanks to legislators and right-wing policy groups who constantly claim there’s not enough accountability in how state dollars are spent.
And if you are wondering what the folks at Greensboro Islamic Academy had to say about Wagner’s story about their financial woes, the head of the board said when reached for a comment, “We don’t talk to reporters. We don’t wanna talk to nobody. Goodbye.”
They and other voucher supporters just want public money, period, no questions asked.
Sorry, it shouldn’t work that way.