New state superintendent, educators weigh in on vouchers and charter schools

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson is visiting schools as a part of his statewide listening tour. During these meet-and-greets, Johnson is talking with educators and teachers about their ideas and concerns regarding school systems.

Friday, Johnson visited Brooks Global Studies in Greensboro, which is a part of the Guilford County school system. During the event, Johnson says he talked with educators about the importance pre-kindergarten programs, teaching more and testing less, and the importance of technology in the classroom.

Johnson took questions from the media at the end of his tour, where he expressed his vision moving forward for all public schools in North Carolina.

“I’m out listening to community stakeholders, to teachers, to leaders of our school systems, to understand what’s working well and what’s not working. And I look forward to being their person in Raleigh speaking for them, not the person in Raleigh coming, telling them what to do.”

As a part of Johnson’s vision, he expressed his support of charter schools and vouchers statewide. His views are in line with those of the new United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“There is the likelihood that there will be more charter schools coming to North Carolina, successful ones. And I know the General Assembly is in charge of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but I would imagine because of the success it's had, it will probably expand,” Johnson said.

Johnson says more than 80 percent of students go to traditional public schools, but wants all students to have choices. He thinks charter schools and vouchers are good alternatives.

“I firmly believe that every student deserves the opportunity to get the best education possible for them. I want that to be through traditional public schools. I’m working every day to make that through traditional public schools. Until we are at that point, I want to make sure that no student fails to get that opportunity,” Johnson said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators represents the views of several teachers across the state. The group supports Johnson’s approach to early education, less testing and better access to technology. But the organization doesn’t agree with his approach to charter schools and vouchers.

The president of the Guilford County chapter, Angela Waiters, is concerned about where the state might be headed when it comes to those programs.

Charter schools are public schools that receive public school funding. Waiters is concerned that charter schools aren’t held to the same rules and regulations as traditional schools, yet get public money.

“Charter schools do not have to hire licensed teachers, public schools do. Charter schools do not have to provide transportation to their students, public schools do,” Waiters said. “Charter schools, they don't have to use any type of curriculum that the state requires, they can choose whatever curriculum they want to. We are held to higher standards in testing, in hiring and what we pay our teachers.”

Waiters also believes that vouchers for some low-income families isn’t the answer for better educational opportunities for all students. For each child that is given a voucher, Waiters says is more money that is taken away from funds that can go towards an already tight traditional school system budget.

“We are draining funding from public schools to fund private and often for-profit schools and organizations,” Waiters said.

Waiters admits that traditional public schools aren’t perfect, but firmly believes that charter schools and vouchers don’t help those existing challenges, and instead, strains the system even more. She hopes state leaders think twice before expanding these programs in the North Carolina.