There has been a lot of discussion over the education proposals included in Governor Roy Cooper’s recommended 2019-2020 recommended budget. One provision absent from most of those discussions is Cooper’s decision to freeze, reduce and ultimately zero out the highly popular Opportunity Scholarship Program. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides low- and middle-income students a voucher of up to $4,200 to attend the private school of their choice. In 2017-18, North Carolina awarded 7,371 scholarships to needy students. This year, already 9,603 scholarships have been awarded. The increase speaks to the popularity of the program –and that the program is meeting a need.
Governor Cooper says such programs lack accountability. We vehemently disagree and address some of those concerns here. Earlier this month, Parents for Educational Freedom North Carolina surveyed nearly 1,500 families about their experience with the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The results: 97 percent of families are happy with the child’s academic progress, 97 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the program, and 99 percent say their child feels safe. You can access survey results here.
Gov. Cooper has spoken often about his commitment to education and ensuring all children have access to a good education. It appears however, that commitment only applies only to certain students in the public schools. If you are in a public school that is challenged or is not a good fit, you’re out of luck.
Civitas has chronicled the Governor’s opposition to school choice (see here and here). That Cooper and his Progressive friends would rather zero out a program than see low-income children access a better education should be a wakeup call to all for North Carolinians.
How out of step are Cooper’s views on the Opportunity Scholarship Program? A January 2019 Civitas Poll found that 85 percent of North Carolinians support the program. That includes 93 percent of African Americans, 87 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Unaffiliated voters.
School choice supporters might have reason to worry about Cooper’s proposal. However, they should remember that earlier this year. Senator Terry Van Duyne (D-Buncombe), and many of her fellow Democratic Senators attempted to end the growth of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Senate Bill 5, Amendment 2, was a motion to end all funding increases for the program. The Amendment failed along mostly party lines, with Democrats Ben Clark (Cumberland) and Paul Lowe (Forsyth) joining Republicans to defeat the measure.
The amendment was offered, despite the fact that 67 percent of North Carolinians believe the General Assembly should do more to expand choice in our state; only 7 percent believe the legislature should stop expanding choice.
Cooper’s opposition to school choice is deep. He included a similar provision to eliminate the Opportunity Scholarship Program in his first budget. Cooper also went to court to challenge the forward funding provisions added to the Opportunity Scholarship Program; a fight he ultimately lost. The governor is already on record saying he thinks charter schools promote segregation.
Gov. Cooper’s proposal to end the Opportunity Scholarship Program signals the breadth of those intentions. It’s a position that is clearly out of step with the majority of North Carolinians. And people need to know about it.
This article was recently updated for clarity.