- Newspaper harrumphs about Opportunity Scholarships, but is silent on alternatives
- Program makes schools accountable to parents
- If scholarships are OK for college and pre-K, why not K-12?
“Grumpy old men.” That’s what I’d call the editors at the News & Observer (no matter their age or sex) who in addition to yesterday’s editorial continue to use any opportunity to tell others why they too should dislike the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a program that continues to do what the N&O editors apparently dislike: provide middle- and low-income children an opportunity to get a better education.
You see, the N&O editors are always saying those evil conservatives don’t really care about poor kids. “But we do!” the editors tell struggling families. Yet, the editors say nothing when parents tell them their child is trapped in a failing school. They say nothing when parents ask pointedly: Would you send your child to this school?
The editors say they are concerned about accountability. Very concerned. They say that many of the private schools Opportunity Scholarship recipients attend are not subject to the accountability requirements found in most public schools, and thus the program is flawed.
Such thinking is misguided.
Accountability is good and it’s something supporters of the Opportunity Scholarship program readily embrace. However we have to recognize that accountability – like education – comes in many flavors.
Private schools have many built-in and effective accountability mechanisms. Private schools are subject to the same health and safety laws as public schools. Private schools frequently seek accreditation with regional bodies that ensure that the institutions meet certain standards of quality.
In addition, there are specific accountability requirements for schools that educate Opportunity Scholarship students. Schools must provide parents with written reports of their student’s progress, including scores on any standardized achievement tests. In addition, schools that educate larger numbers of Opportunity Scholarship students will be required to provide financial data and provide academic progress reports. Furthermore, the Opportunity Scholarship Program is required to submit to the Joint Education Oversight Committee and the Department of Public Instruction a progress report on the learning gains of students receiving the scholarships.
However, there is an accountability mechanism in place that exceeds even these extensive requirements: parents. If the school is failing students, parents will take them out and send them elsewhere. It’s a reality that makes most private schools attentive to the needs and wants of students and parents.
The editors say Opportunity Scholarships drain money from the public schools – $12 million last year and more next year. Draining money from the public schools? Let’s step back and get some perspective. Total state funding for K-12 public education in 2015-16 was $8.95 billion. Twelve million for the Opportunity Scholarship Program constitutes three-one-hundredths of one percent of the NC Public School Budget.
If the editors want to talk about draining money from the public schools, they might look at the many areas where schools, school districts and the Department of Public Instruction waste money.
North Carolina now spends roughly $8,500 per student each year, marking a staggering 300 percent increase since 1970 even after adjusting for inflation, yet student achievement has stagnated. Why has all that money failed to improve results? That should be fodder for a year of editorials.
Of course this brings up an interesting point. North Carolina provides $60 million to the NC Pre-K program. For years the program has been providing vouchers for children to enroll in pre-K programs with private providers. In addition, last year North Carolina provided $265 million in scholarships for students to attend public and private colleges.
I wonder: why haven’t N&O editors spoken out against these programs? Don’t they believe state money given to private pre-K providers hurts the state? Don’t they believe students who attend private colleges with state scholarships are harming our public colleges and universities?
Why the silence? We’ve heard nothing because the private Pre-K centers and educational institutions provide a quality product at a reasonable price.
If parents can be trusted to choose the best pre-K program for their children, shouldn’t they also be allowed to choose an elementary school or high school? Not according to the editors.
Every child deserves a chance to obtain a good education. Our public schools provide that for many children. But if we’re honest, we know that for too many the system fails. That’s where the Opportunity Scholarship program comes in. It provides that chance for many children trapped in difficult circumstances. Access to quality private schools shouldn’t be limited only to wealthy families.
The Opportunity Scholarship Program is a good program. Not perfect, but a good start in the right direction.
Last year there were approximately 2,500 students who received Opportunity Scholarships. This year, more than 5,600 new applications have been received. That’s proof something good is happening.
I wish the N&O editors could see it. Then maybe they’d smile along with the parents and children who have benefitted and whose joy is so easily dismissed.