Welcome to the GOP's new education agenda: Loot our public schools for private vouchers

In North Carolina and Kentucky, public schools are the center of our communities. We’re proud public school graduates ourselves – and we know the critical role our schools play in teaching our students, strengthening our workforces and growing our economies.

We’ve seen record-high graduation rates of almost 90% in our public schools. North Carolina and Kentucky rank in the top 10 for National Board-certified teachers, one of the highest recognition teachers can earn.

In Kentucky, we’ve seen significant improvement in elementary school reading, even with setbacks from the pandemic like many states experienced. In North Carolina last year, public school students completed a record 325,000 workforce credentials in areas like information technology and construction. The bottom line? Our public schools are critical to our success and an overwhelming number of parents are choosing them for their children.

That’s why we’re so alarmed that legislators want to loot our public schools to fund their private school voucher scheme. These vouchers, instituted in the 1950s and 1960s by Southern governors to thwart mandatory school desegregation, are rising again thanks to a coordinated plan by lobbyists, private schools and right-wing legislators.

Voucher programs chip away at the public education our kids deserve

This is their strategy: Start the programs modestly, offering vouchers only to low-income families or children with disabilities. But then expand the giveaway by taking money from public schools and allowing the wealthiest among us who already have children in private schools to pick up a government check.

In North Carolina, the Republican legislature passed a voucher program with no income limit, no accountability and no requirement that children can’t already go to a private school. This radical plan will cost the state $4 billion over the next 10 years, money that could be going to fully fund our public schools. In Kentucky, legislators are trying to amend our constitution to enshrine their efforts to take taxpayer money from public schools and use it for private schools.

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Both of our constitutions guarantee our children a right to public education. But both legislatures are trying to chip away at that right, leaving North Carolina and Kentucky ranked near the bottom in per-pupil spending and teacher pay.

Public schools are crucial to our local economies. In North Carolina, public schools are a top-five employer in all 100 counties. In many rural counties, there are no private schools for kids to go to – meaning that those taxpayer dollars are torn out of the county and put right into the pockets of wealthier people in more populated areas.

In fact, in Kentucky, 60% of counties don’t even have a certified private school. This has caused rural Republicans in red states like Texas and Georgia to vote against voucher schemes that would starve their rural schools.

Parenting styles: My 8-year-old daughter got her first sleepover invite. There's no way she's going.

Private schools get taxpayer dollars with no real accountability

As governors, we’ve proposed fully funding our public schools, teacher pay raises to treat our educators like the professionals they are and expanded early childhood education. We know that strong public schools mean strong communities. Families in Kentucky and North Carolina know that too. In North Carolina, nearly 8 in 10 children go to public schools.

Roy Cooper is the Democratic governor of North Carolina.
Roy Cooper is the Democratic governor of North Carolina.

Our public schools serve all children. They provide transportation and meals and educate students with disabilities. And they’re accountable to taxpayers with public assessments showing how students and schools are doing and where they need to improve.

Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky.
Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky.

But private schools that get this taxpayer money have little to no accountability. They aren’t even required to hire licensed teachers, provide meals, transportation or services for disabled students. They don’t even have to tell the taxpayers what they teach or how their students perform. North Carolina’s voucher system has been described as “the least regulated private school voucher program in the country.”

Studies of student performance under school voucher programs not only showed that they don’t help them, but that they could actually have harmful effects. Results from a 2016 study of Louisiana’s voucher program found "strong and consistent evidence that students using an LSP scholarship performed significantly worse in math after using their scholarship to attend private schools." In Indiana, results also showed "significant losses" in math. A third study of a voucher program in Ohio reported that “students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

We aren’t against private schools. But we are against taxpayer money going to private schools at the expense of public schools.

The future of our nation goes to class in public schools, and all Americans must be on guard for lobbyists and extremist politicians bringing similar plans to their states. Our segregationist predecessors were on the wrong side of history, and we don’t need to go back.

We are going to keep standing up for our public school students to ensure that they have the funding they need, and that teachers are paid like the professionals they are. It’s what’s best for our children, our economy and our future.

Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina. Andy Beshear is the governor of Kentucky.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans want to loot public schools for private vouchers