Opportunity scholarships put school power in the hands of parents

November 5, 2013 

Over the past two years, I have followed the arguments that opponents of Opportunity Scholarships have hurled at the futures of economically disadvantaged students who need educational options. I am always taken back when people who have benefited from “school choice” desire to restrict minorities from having the same “choice.” This is hypocritical at the least and condemning at best.

The Opportunity Scholarship program serves as a launching pad for significant, needed transformation in North Carolina.

Most critics of HB 944 never acknowledge the facts surrounding the unsatisfactory performance of students who would benefit from Opportunity Scholarships:

• When excluding the top 10 percent of the highest-priced private schools, the average tuition is just $4,901

• More than 40 percent of North Carolina’s private schools have tuition under $4,000

•  The Children’s Scholarship Fund of Charlotte provides private school scholarships to families in Mecklenburg County where the average income is $28,800. A recent study of the program found that 97 percent of scholarship students contacted have graduated from high school.

• Within the past five years, on average, only 44 percent of black students passed end-of-grade tests compared with 76 percent of white students, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Much has changed in America since the 1950s. The landmark victory of Brown vs. the Board of Education laid the foundation to rectify the separate and unequal education of African-American students. Today, minority parents define academic equality in terms of outcomes and quality of education.

When focusing on the measurable outcomes, it is quite evident that minorities have suffered from the notion of “business as usual.” This is not to downplay the efforts of public school teachers who labor tirelessly week in and week out. In terms of academic achievement, there is overwhelming evidence that minorities suffer the most in public schools. The opportunity scholarships are for those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. For a family of four, that is a household income of less than $44,000.

At the Upper Room Christian Academy, we not only serve families from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but we also effectively educate and empower them. Whether parents are blue-collar or white-collar workers, there is one thing they have in common: laying the foundation for lifelong success.

The parents of URCA are taxpayers who pay twice for education only because they desire better options for their children. We are absolutely delighted with the opportunity to serve even more so that these families will, finally, have the ability to choose the most appropriate education for their child.

Since the cost of these scholarships is less than what taxpayers pay to fund a child at traditional public schools, it is sheer nonsense to say that this money comes from public schools that serve the general population. It saves taxpayers money. It is nonsense to think that lower-income kids will use these scholarships mostly to attend high-tuition schools when the maximum scholarship is $4,200.

The scholarships restore authority into the hands of parents who seek refuge in private schools, without facing economic challenges. I vouch for vouchers. Frederick Douglass said it best when he said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Let my people grow while time is on their side.

John K. Amanchukwu, a 2006 graduate of N.C. State where he played football, is the executive director of Upper Room Christian Academy in Raleigh.

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