Late last week Representatives Graig Meyer (D-Orange), Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford), Cynthia Ball (D-Wake) and Raymond Smith (D-Sampson) introduced HB 1129, a bill which essentially ends the highly popular Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), among other things. As of May 20th, 40 legislators — all Democrats – have signed on to the bill.
OSP, started in 2015, provides eligible students a scholarship of up to $4,200 per year to attend a school of their choice. This past year 12,283 students participated in the program.
Do legislators seek to cancel the program because it helps middle, or high-income families?
According to a study by North Carolina State University, the median household income of new OSP recipients is $16,213 and $15,000 for those who renew.
Do legislators seek to cancel the program because it’s not working?
Students use OSP to get a better education.
OSP’s growth from just over 1,200 students in 2015 to almost 12,300 five years later says something is working.
Do legislators want to cancel OSP because parents and the public don’t like it?
In a January 2020 Civitas Poll, 67 percent of respondents said they somewhat or strongly favor the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Support for the program was strong among Republicans (70%), Democrats (67%) and the unaffiliated (62%). A separate survey of minority voters expressed even stronger support (78%) for the program.
We should not be surprised by OSP’s growth and popularity. OSP offers students a lifeline to a better future. I know, I’ve talked to parents and students. I’ve heard the gratitude in their voices for a program that offers children a second chance. I’ve seen children beam when they tell me what a difference OSP has made in their lives.
Thirty-five legislators want to end these lifelines. They want to close the doors and take away the opportunity for a better future for thousands of children.
In our January poll, 81 percent of respondents said parents should have the ability to choose where their child attends school. Among minority respondents, an even higher percentage — 84 percent — believe parents should have the ability to choose where a child attends schools.
Thirty-five North Carolina legislators — all Democrats — take issue with that statement and place themselves very much outside the mainstream and among the 14 percent of respondents who disagree that parents should decide such questions.
Should we be surprised?
Democrats have long opposed school choice. Previous state and national party platforms have spoken out against choice in education. The draft 2020 platform for the North Carolina Democratic Party lays out the party’s views:
PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS AND CHARTERS: We oppose the implementation of private and religious school voucher programs. Such programs harm our traditional public schools by diluting the financial support for those institutions, making our system less socio-economically diverse and encouraging families to abandon the public-school system that serves everyone.
This paragraph is filled with false statements, which have been addressed elsewhere. What’s key here is for everyone to see what’s important is the protection of the traditional public-school system; what is not are the hopes and aspirations of children for a better future.
The survival of the public-school system is the highest value, and progressives are making clear; nothing will get in the way. When you consider all the other wooly phrases extolling the virtues of individual freedoms, rights, and opportunity, the hypocrisy and inconsistency of progressives is on full display.
The progressive war against school choice is not new ( see here, and here). Progressives have blamed school choice for a litany of woes; diverting public school funds, segregated schools, skimming of students, lack of accountability. All standard accusations out of the progressive playbook and all wrong (see here, here and here). Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has fought against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, going to court to end forward-funding (which he lost). His budget proposals have also called for ending the OSP program. His intense opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Program is well known. When compared to views of the general public and to many in his own party, Cooper’s views on school choice can best be called extreme. The same should be said about Graig Meyer and the 34 legislators who signed on to HB 1129.
Of course, the governor and lawmakers have every right to hold their views and defend their positions. But if you noticed, we don’t get a debate. We don’t hear a defense of why taking away scholarships from minority school children is a good thing. Democrats don’t go there, for fear that it would only deepen a growing problem within their own party: black and minority voters are abandoning Democratic candidates in favor of school choice candidates.
Critics say school choice is unfair because it takes money from underfunded public schools. How do you make that case when state appropriations and inflation-adjusted per pupil support increased six years in a row?[i]
Critics charge that private school choice is unfair because it hurts the public schools. How much? Private school choice programs comprise two-thirds of one percent of annual expenditures for K-12 public schools in North Carolina.
Still, we’re told the system must be protected.
Is school choice and the Opportunity Scholarship unfair, or is it the irrational actions taken to end the program?
Think about it; social security recipients are free to spend their check as they like. In most instances, Medicare and Medicaid recipients choose their healthcare providers. People who receive Federal Housing Choice vouchers choose where they want to live. SNAP recipients decide where they want to shop. Students awarded federal student aid are free to choose where they will attend college. Here in North Carolina, NC pre-K recipients are free to choose a pre-K provider. Last year over $267.3 million in government grants and private scholarships were made available for North Carolina students to use at the school of their choice. Public education is one of only a very few government- funded programs that doesn’t allow participants to select a provider. Why?
Forty legislators want to end the Opportunity Scholarship Program because they say it hurts the public schools.
Don’t believe them. Parents and students say OSP is a lifeline. Progressives want to shut down OSP because, in their view, education is about control. OSP threatens the current public-school monopoly, so it must be eliminated.
Ask Progressive lawmakers who support HB 1129, why they want to take away scholarships to needy children? Ask them if education is about the student or the system?
And remember their answers.
[i] From correspondence with Fiscal Research Division of North Carolina General Assembly.