In the fields of elementary and secondary education one size does not fit all, as President Trump aptly noted in his State of the Union Address Tuesday evening. North Carolina is one of the few states that both understands this fact and is offering educational opportunities to those who would not otherwise have a choice.
Looking to the gallery in his address in the US House of Representatives, President Trump pointed to Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader from Philadelphia, who had been denied the opportunity to attend the school of her choosing because Pennsylvania’s Governor had vetoed a bill allowing school choice. Fortunately, through the generosity of Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, a scholarship in the form of financial assistance will accommodate Janiyah’s opportunity.
“For too long countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools (and) to rescue these students 18 states have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships,” President Trump noted in his speech. And proudly, one of those states is North Carolina. But unfortunately, as in Pennsylvania, the effort is under attack by North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper.
Now in its sixth year, the N.C. Opportunity Scholarship program provides an annual stipend of up to $4,200 to students from low-income families, to attend a private school that best meets the child’s needs as determined by the parents or guardians. Since the program started in 2014 approximately 58,000 applications have been submitted. And for the current school year alone over eleven thousand applications were submitted with only 9,561 students receiving scholarships.
Ironically Governor Cooper, whose political agenda is all about helping the state’s low income and impoverished citizens, opposes Opportunity Scholarships and ancillary programs such as Children with Disability Grants and Special Needs Education Savings Accounts on the grounds that it they “siphon money away from public schools.” Yet he knows the truth, that all of these programs are funded from the state’s general fund and not the state school budget.
Not only are the moneys used for the scholarships not coming from the state’s education system, but additionally the program is saving the state money and therefore easing the financial burden on the school funding.
Analysis from the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, shows that during the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Opportunity Scholarship Program saved the state $2,354 for every student utilizing the scholarship, resulting in a total savings of $17.3 million for the state that year.
The other untruth espoused by the Governor is that “there hasn’t been that much demand” for the program. The statistic noted above - 11,790 applications submitted with only 9,561 being provided- refutes that argument.
Fortunately the N.C. General Assembly has preempted the governor’s efforts and those of the state’s teacher’s union, NCAE, by forward funding the program with $10 million being added annually through fiscal year 2029.
We agree with the President when he urged Congress to pass the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, a bill providing tax credits for contributions to elementary and secondary school scholarship programs. “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American dream.”
One size does not fit all students and if we want our state, let alone the nation, to continue on a course of prosperity and civil engagement we need to provide opportunities to all who want to succeed. Governor Cooper, his caucus and his supporters need to reconsider their elitist attitude that government knows best and that one-size-fits all. Opportunity Scholarships provide a brighter future for families, our state and our nation.