Schools of parental choice are held accountable by the parents that choose them.
Accountability means different things to different people. First and foremost, public education should be accountable to the students, and the educational quality they receive. This goes hand-in-hand with accountability to the students' parents, who want their children to receive a quality education in a welcoming, safe, environment. Costs, how the money is spent--and how efficiently--equates to accountability to tax-payers.
Accountable to students/parents, quality education?
Since families have their own value systems around "quality education," accountability must first be derived from offering options that meet these values. Because offering more education options means increased accountability to parents, it also means assigned district schools have to be accountable to parents too, else parents will enroll their children elsewhere.
Surveying parent satisfaction and comparing standardized tests scores gives us metrics for accountability. For example, our 2018 survey of Opportunity Scholarship parents examines accountability to educational equality and school safety (among other things), with 97% of parents reporting being satisfied or very satisfied with their child's academic progress, and 99% reporting their child feels safe. Then, these education options must be accountable to quality, measured by education outcomes--like what percentage of their students go on to attend college, or how much they earn in the workforce--as well as standardized test scores.
This accountability measure is already in place, through the legislature-mandated study comparing Opportunity Scholarship students and their public school counterparts. The most recent study from NC State University revealed the Opportunity Scholarship was associated with higher standardized test scores for students in their first and second years of participation in the program. Estimated impacts of the program on achievement were “positive” and “large,” researchers found. In year one of scholarship use, researchers found that scholarship students outperformed a matched group of public-school students in reading, math, and language.
Accountable to tax payers?
From a tax-payer's perspective, the goal is to offer quality education at the lowest price. Since "quality education" equates to options, we'll examine the costs for offering these options relative to their educational outcomes: The up to $4,200 per student per year allocation for Opportunity Scholarship students that would otherwise be state expenditures of $6,153 per student per year if they were in the public school system, represents a savings of $1,953 per student per year. In hand, with the savings of $1,953 per student, comes the improved educational outcomes exhibited by higher standardized test scores.
Accountable to the Constitution?
The argument--that any and all education spending should be controlled by traditional public schools--was addressed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2015. They ruled that the North Carolina legislature can use its general revenue fund to create educational programs outside the public-school system (Hart v. State of North Carolina et al).
Choice opponents argue The US Constitution "separates church and state," (those words are actually not in the US Constitution) and parental school choice gives public dollars to religious religious schools. However, the Opportunity Scholarship goes to parents, who then decide which school to enroll their children, so not allowing parents to choose a school that suits their religious values violates their constitutional right to "the free expression thereof."
In hand, the NC constitution includes "religion" with "morality" and "knowledge." Though the government shouldn't impose religion, it's a violation of our Bill of Rights to deny the education of our choosing.
Financial and Administrative Accountability
The scholarship programs are administered by the NC State Education Assistance Authority (Authority), having been established in 1965, and whose secretariat is provided by the University of North Carolina.
Provide to the Authority a criminal background check conducted for the staff member with the highest decision-making authority to ensure that person has not been convicted of any crime.
Provide to the Authority documentation for required tuition and fees charged to the student by the nonpublic school. A nonpublic school that accepts students receiving scholarship grants shall not require any additional fees based on the status of the student as a scholarship grant recipient.
Contract with a certified public accountant to perform a financial review for each school year in which the school accepts students receiving more than $300,000 in scholarship grants.
Administer, at least once each school year, a nationally standardized test to all scholarship students enrolled in grades three through twelve which measures achievement in the areas of English grammar, reading, spelling, and mathematics.
Provide to the parent or guardian of a scholarship student an annual written explanation of the student’s progress, including the student’s scores on standardized achievement tests.
A nonpublic school enrolling more than 25 scholarship students shall report to the Authority the aggregate standardized test performance of those students which shall be public record.
Provide to the Authority the graduation rates of the students receiving scholarship grants in a manner consistent with nationally recognized standards.
Comparative Analysis and Reporting Mandate for the Opportunity Scholarship Program
The Authority shall report annually to the NC General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee and shall be conducted by an independent research organization (public or private entity or university).
The findings shall prompt an analysis of the learning gains and losses of Opportunity Scholarship students compared public school students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, using aggregate standardized test performance data provided by the nonpublic school and by the NC Department of Public Instruction.
Furthermore, the analysis will report on the impact of the availability of scholarship grants on public school performance on standardized tests by local school administrative units to the extent possible, and shall provide comparisons of the impact by geographic region and between rural and urban local school administrative units.
The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee shall make ongoing recommendations to the NC General Assembly regarding improving administration and accountability for nonpublic schools accepting Opportunity Scholarship students.
A nonpublic school shall not discriminate with respect to race, color, or national origin, in accordance with The Civil Rights Act.