Education Reform North Carolina Vouchers

Lindsay Wagner: Inside a Voucher School in North Carolina

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Lindsay Wagner, veteran education writer in North Carolina, visited a small rural church school that enrolls students whose tuition is paid with taxpayer-funded vouchers.

 

If you like schools with no standards, curriculum, or  accountability, you will like this school.

 

If you want the next generation to believe that the Bible is the best source of learning about science and history, you will like this school.

 

 

Wagner writes:

 

 

Star Christian Academy, a K-12 private school, occupies two rooms in the back of New Generation Christian Church in Smithfield. According to a former student, it has just three teachers for the 13 grades, and they provide minimal active instruction. The school is run by a husband-and-wife team with a long history of personal bankruptcies and failure to pay state and federal taxes.

 
Nonetheless, Star Christian has received more than $75,000 in state funds since 2014 through the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships program, created by the legislature in 2013. It provides low-income families with vouchers worth $4,200 per year that can be applied to tuition at private schools.

 

There is nothing to prevent schools such as Star Christian from continuing to receive the state money. The law establishing the program contains no meaningful standards for accountability or transparency in terms of how public funds are spent. It sets no minimum qualifications for teachers (except that they must have a high school diploma), no requirements regarding the curriculum, and no means of assessing student performance.

 
One of the Opportunity Scholarships law’s few requirements is that the head of a private school that receives voucher money undergo a national criminal background check. But such a background check would not – and did not – reveal that Star Christian’s head of school, Mohammad Haleem, and his wife, Alicia Allen, have filed for bankruptcy three times since 1997. Court documents also show that they failed to pay at least $41,000 in taxes to the federal government and the state of Virginia.

 
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According to its handbook, Star Christian uses the “School of Tomorrow” curriculum, which is published by the company Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.) and is widely used by private Christian schools and Christian homeschoolers. The curriculum uses a “Biblical literalist approach” and has been criticized by education researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Tech for its reliance on rote memorization and failure to encourage the development of scholarship and critical thinking skills.

 
But it’s impossible to know which textbooks and online materials Star Christian Academy uses from A.C.E. because the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships law doesn’t require the school to make that information public.
The law also does not require private schools to disclose what kinds of teachers they employ (and no teacher need have more than a high school diploma) and how well their students are faring in their classrooms unless they have more than 25 students who use the taxpayer-funded vouchers.

 
I have made multiple requests to visit Star Christian Academy and to interview Haleem and Allen about the education they offer. They denied my requests and threatened to call local law enforcement if I tried to visit uninvited.

 
***
Star Christian Academy is just one private school among nearly 400 across North Carolina – most of them with religious affiliations – that have received Opportunity Scholarships money since 2014, when state lawmakers authorized the program. With this law, roughly $10 million in public funds has been earmarked on an annual basis for low-income families to use at private schools, and the program is scheduled to more than double by next year.

 
Supporters of the scholarships say that poor families whose children aren’t doing well in public schools deserve access to a private education alternative.

 
Opponents, however, say the program siphons money from a uniform system of free public schools that is constitutionally guaranteed to all – and which is suffering from years of disinvestment by state lawmakers. North Carolina now sits near the bottom in national rankings on per pupil expenditures.

 

 

 

 

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