Kris Nordstrom is at it again.

In a recent article commenting on the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Nordstrom alleged that “many private schools in N.C. have more vouchers than students.”  He also said, “new data shows the existing program lacks adequate oversight and is potentially riven with fraud.”

Nordstrom, an analyst at the NC Justice Center – and no friend of school choice — has been hurling allegations at the Opportunity Scholarship Program for years. Now, Nordstrom hopes to derail a potential massive expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

After I read his post, I contacted the State Education Assistance Authority, the agency charged with administering the Opportunity Scholarship Program, to get their take on Nordstrom’s figures.

In response, SEAA forwarded the attached document. To this observer, the document looks as if it was developed specifically to address the concerns Nordstrom raises in his article. 

The document specifically responds to the perceived discrepancy Nordstrom encountered in numbers of OSP students enrolled in schools that he received from the Office of Non-Public Instruction (NCDNPE) and the State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA).

The SEAA document states:

Why does it appear that some schools received more Opportunity Scholarship grants than total students enrolled?

DNPE data is reflective of the schools and enrollment at a point in time. New private schools are required by law to notify DNPE of an intent to operate, and private schools are required by law to notify DNPE when the school terminates operation. DNPE is required to report annually by July 15th to the General Assembly on the total number of schools and total enrollment by grade statewide and by county. However, this data is a “snapshot” and does not account for variations in the number of schools or enrollment over the course of a year.

SEAA works with Opportunity Scholarship schools and families attending those schools throughout the year; therefore, SEAA data is continually updated and not simply a point in time. For example, students, both Opportunity Scholarship recipients and other students, transfer into and out of schools during the school year. Enrollment can vary from semester-to-semester or even within the same semester.

Researchers have previously encountered challenges when attempting to compare the data housed at DNPE and SEAA. There are differences in the timing and manner that the data is collected and presented. These obstacles make it difficult to accurately reconcile datasets from the two agencies.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying Nordstrom’s numbers are wrong.

The document also responds to Nordstrom’s allegations that the program “lacks oversight and is potentially riven with fraud.”

To address those concerns, the SEAA document carefully lists the steps SEAA, NCDNPE, and schools are required to take to ensure verifications are made and the OSP program is administered as intended. The document also lists the process SEAA uses when a school closes or students can no longer use the program. 

Regrettably, even despite these steps, fraud does happen in both public and private schools. School choice advocates are committed as much as anyone to ensuring procedures are in place that limit fraud and when it does happen, those responsible are brought to justice. 

Readers have good reason to be skeptical of Nordstrom’s numbers. He compares two sets of figures that are not meant to be compared. While he contacted SEAA to discuss the program, he did not give the agency sufficient time to provide a response.

Nordstrom’s actions resulted in false information being widely distributed. If he is a credible researcher, he will seek to correct his mistakes.