The N.C. Supreme Court’s monumental decision on the Opportunity Scholarship Program liberates thousands of low-income children from an inferior educational model.
North Carolina simply doesn’t educate our poor children well. Hundreds of thousands of our state’s low-income public schoolchildren perform below grade level in reading or math. Of more than 1.5 million public schoolchildren, low-income children make up the majority of students enrolled in nearly all of the public schools grossly underperforming in our state.
From communities to the legislature and, most recently, the courtroom, we’ve heard the argument that programs like the Opportunity Scholarship destroy public education. However, in the words of a national school reformer and civil rights advocate, Dr. Howard Fuller: “Perhaps we don’t quite understand what public education is. What makes public education public is that it operates in the public interest of society as a whole.” Society as a whole means not just the rich or middle class, but the poor as well.
How is it in the public’s interest for our poorest children to make up the highest percentage of suspensions and expulsions in our public schools, have the lowest graduation rates, be less likely to read by third grade and have the lowest competency scores for decades?
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In struggling to understand the problem regarding the educational underperformance of low-income children, many are quick to point the finger at parents – chastising them for their lack of interest, involvement and overall support of their child’s education. However, think about how poor parents in North Carolina responded to the bell in fighting for their child’s opportunity through this program. Thousands of these low-income parents didn’t just knock on the door – they blew it open for this opportunity.
In just two years of a court-impeded program, we’ve seen over 11,000 applications flood in from all 100 counties. For those families whose children were allowed to participate last year, nearly 95 percent of them reapplied this year. Their tenacity during the program’s legal battle illustrates that, despite their poverty status, these parents do care about their children’s education as much as anyone.
In one of the court’s dissenting opinions, it was stated this program “provides no framework at all for evaluating any of the participating schools’ contribution to public purposes.” In other words, the dissenting justice argued that the program lacks accountability. Moving beyond who should ultimately be both Alpha and Omega on the subject of accountability – the parent – this program has strong measures in place: Private schools are required to test scholarship students each year and report those results to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. Participating private schools with a high number of scholarship students are subjected to a financial review by an outside CPA. A full reporting must be made annually to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.
Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” is now more than patriotic rhetoric.
President, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
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