‘I didn’t come here to keep the status quo, because the status quo isn’t acceptable,” Gov. Pat McCrory stated in his latest address on education issues. With only 54 percent of economically disadvantaged students passing end-of-grade tests in reading and math, he is certainly not off-base.
Fortunately, our governor desires to do whatever it takes to boost achievement and strengthen our public schools, hence the announcement of a $30 million Innovation Fund and support for N.C. Career and College Ready state standards.
In addition, two measures that McCrory recently signed – Opportunity Scholarships and Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants – will be vital toward ensuring our economically disadvantaged students reach their full potential. These programs help children from low-income and working-class families find other alternatives without adversely affecting our public school system. These measures are designed so that they are accountable and transparent.
The crux is this: Even if you have a great school district with great schools, great principals and great teachers, can we confidently state that every child in those great classrooms is being adequately educated? Even if the answer is all but one, that is still one child too many. Opportunity Scholarships are not designed for the majority of students, but for the minority of students – those most at risk of falling behind and ultimately dropping out.
Lesley Wright from Raleigh is one such parent with children who could benefit from this scholarship program. Like any mother, Wright wants what’s best for her two children, one of whom struggles with reading and the other with math. She has identified a private school that can potentially meet each child’s needs, but she can afford to enroll only one child. Because of the $4,200 Opportunity Scholarship, Lesley will no longer have to make the painful decision of which child should attend the school.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure my children get a chance at a better life,” she said. “A better life includes a better education. I want to thank our governor and policymakers for giving working-class parents like me the opportunity to help themselves, as well as support those teachers who are going the extra mile to reach children like mine.”
Notice that Wright is honing in on the most important word: opportunity. Our public school system already recognizes that simply assigning students to schools based on ZIP codes does not always work best for every child, hence the addition of magnet and specialized schools. Likewise, these scholarship programs help ensure that children like Wright’s will not have their educations shortchanged because of a lack of options.
Opportunity Scholarships and Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants are bright spots for North Carolina, along with our governor’s focus on improving public schools and rewarding our teachers. These measures should not be drowned out by a hyper-focus on other budget criticisms. These programs can be critical cornerstones in meeting the growing needs of children who show up at the same schoolhouse doors year after year unable to read, write and solve math problems at grade level. Now is the time for bold leadership and innovative solutions. Our governor says the status quo is unacceptable, and I say, “Amen.”
Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.