Regarding the June 5 editorial “Public schools feel threat from push for vouchers and for-profit charter schools”: Senate leaders have released a budget that seeks to expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program. I applaud this measure because it would meet parental demand.
Over 22,000 applications have flooded into the program in just three years – proof of the growing need for educational choice. This program, which provides scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools, is empowering parents to select the school that best meets their children’s needs.
Nearly 8,100 families have submitted student applications for 2016-17, including 3,000 renewals. However, current funding allows just 6,200 scholarships, meaning funding won’t keep pace with demand. In response, the Senate budget’s 10-year expansion targets anticipated need by funding 2,000 additional scholarships annually. As a result, the program could serve 33,750 low-income children through nearly $145 million in funding by 2027-28.
Some say the beneficiaries of Opportunity Scholarships – poor children – are better served by public schools. The evidence indicates otherwise. Just 42 percent of economically disadvantaged children attending our public schools are proficient on state end-of-grade tests. Almost all schools earning an “F” on state report cards are high-poverty schools. How do low-income families feel about these odds? Of those fortunate enough to receive an Opportunity Scholarship, approximately 90 percent choose to renew.
Opponents also stoke fears about “unaccountable” private schools, implying that uniformity through state tests alone ensures good schools. Paradoxically, the school leaders who raise this argument to fault the Opportunity Scholarship Program pressure our state to modify or remove some of these same accountability standards for public schools. Certainly outside metrics are necessary, and private schools participating in the scholarship program must adhere to testing and reporting requirements. However, their requirements are not the same as those of traditional public schools, nor should they be.
Furthermore, spurious logic about uniformity has also been used to argue against public charter schools. Yet tens of thousands of students populate charter school wait lists, and many school districts are, themselves, advocating a more charter-like approach – less regulation, more creativity in curricular determinations and greater flexibility regarding teacher certification standards.
We must face the hard reality: Our K-12 system does not educate poor, mostly minority, students well. Could it be that the 400-plus private schools participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Program might have something to teach students – and us – about innovative approaches to educating poor children? Thousands of low-income families, for whom doors of opportunity have already opened, surely think so. For many students, doors of opportunity needn’t be half-closed. Now is the time for North Carolina to open wide the door of opportunity.
President, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.