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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

When it comes to school vouchers, once again the rich will get richer

Legislators in North Carolina have come up with a new plan to provide vouchers for children who want to go to private schools. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says it’s a wealth transfer in the wrong direction.

At some point, I have a certain grudging respect for the dedication some people have to playing Robin Hood in reverse — taking money from regular folks and handing it to the rich.

Their latest maneuver here in North Carolina is a move to provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to any child in the state who wants to go to private school. Republicans have introduced similar bills in both houses of the legislature, and some version is nearly certain to become law because of the GOP’s supermajority.

Kids from families with modest incomes have been eligible for similar vouchers here for the past 10 years. That, to me, actually makes some sense. It provides an escape route for a kid stuck in a failing school.

But this legislation would give even the wealthiest families a voucher equal to 45% of the state’s average per-student expenditure. What that means is, when the richest families in Charlotte send their kids to the ritziest schools in town, you and I help foot the bill.

The House Republicans brought out their newest member, Rep. Tricia Cotham to tout the plan, which qualified as taunting on several levels. One, she just got done bait-and-switching the voters who elected her as a Democrat not six months ago. Two, that switch gave the Republicans the veto-proof majority to pass just such a bill. And three, she’s a former assistant principal at two Charlotte public schools.

So when she talked about how her son’s new private school is so much better than the public school he would’ve gone to, she managed to throw her old colleagues under the same bus she threw her constituents under when she switched parties. She’s quite the charmer.

But there’s even bigger hypocrisy when you zoom out a little.

This same legislature is continuing a decades-long struggle against public money for education as part of the Leandro case, which was originally filed back in 1994. A judge ruled just two weeks ago that under Leandro, the state needs to increase its education funding by $677 million. The whole point of that case is to remove inequities in public schools.

So apparently the solution is to help wealthy families pay for private-school tuition they could already afford.

Of course, public schools aren’t as good as the best private schools. Public schools don’t get to cherry-pick their students. They don’t get to set their own salaries for teachers and staff. They don’t get endowments from bankers and pro athletes. What they do get is constant grief from the very people trying to undercut them.

And that goes all the way to the core. We can blame politicians all we want. But the truth is, there are too many parents who will fight to the death over their own children but not lift a finger for somebody else’s. The real gap in North Carolina education is not a financial gap but an empathy gap.

This state, from top to bottom, has to care about all our children. Based on the evidence, we don’t.


Tommy Tomlinson’s "On My Mind" column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org.It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.