To those who consider House Bill 1104, the N.C. Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, solely a Republican measure, here’s a recent comment by Democratic Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J.: “When people tell me they’re against school choice, I look at them and say as soon as you’re willing to send your kid to a failing school ... then I’ll be with you.”
Mayor Booker isn’t the only Democrat who believes this; just ask North Carolina state Reps. Marcus Brandon, William Brisson, James Crawford Jr. and Dewey Hill – all co-sponsors of HB 1104. This measure allows corporations to receive tax credits for contributions that will specifically help poor children attend a nonpublic schools through scholarships.
HB1104 is needed because more than 336,000 poor kids failed end-of-grade tests last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. This staggering number represents over a quarter of all traditional public school students. Equally alarming is that in Wake County, less than 50 percent of poor students passed end-of-grade tests over the past five years, compared with more than 80 percent of their wealthier peers, according to DPI.
These numbers not only mirror statewide results but also remind us that our children are not receiving the “sound, basic education” as promised by our state constitution. Moreover, a key argument against education reform measures is that they rob traditional schools of necessary funds. But this bears no truth, nor does increased funding always equal improved academic results.
Washington, D.C., has the highest per-student expenditure in the country (over $16,000) yet ranks dead last in student performance nationally. Similarly, North Carolina spent over $35 billion on education over the past five years, yet results for poor children have worsened.
Take the Leandro court case, where public education for poor children was so inadequate in five rural counties that Judge Howard Manning equated it to academic genocide. Since the case began over a decade ago, regrettably, we have lost an entire generation of children. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of children in these five counties learning in school districts where the number of poor students passing end-of-grade tests dropped by 16 percent over the last 10 years, per DPI numbers.
This further illustrates how low-income children are not being adequately served in a “one size fits all” educational model, yet when HB 1104 was introduced it was unfairly labeled as “the latest effort to dismantle public education,” according to state Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. Given the dismal numbers for low-income students, I argue that for them, public education is already dismantled!
HB 1104’s purpose is not to dismantle but to serve the neediest children by reassembling a more effective education system that better delivers on the constitutional promise to educate all children. Such programs are proven to help Raleigh families like Shemekka Coleman’s who are tired of receiving no credit for wanting to improve the education their children receive.
“Give me credit for being educationally ambitious,” she said. “Being low income doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to my son’s academic needs. I know what works. This program will allow me to look my son in the eye and say that I’m providing him with a better education than what I had.”
School leaders often complain of parental apathy, especially where we see long-term underperformance of poor and mostly minority children. Therefore, let’s give parents like Coleman an opportunity through HB 1104 to either put up or shut up.
This measure is not about overthrowing our public education system but is an ideal way to complement our public education system. It is about making education more fair and equitable for all children, regardless of income or ZIP code, so that they can fully receive their constitutional right to a quality education for generations to come.
Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (www.pefnc.org).