President Trump put a bright light on the issue of school choice in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. Ray Nothstine of Civitas and Mike Long of Parents for Educational Freedom offered their thoughts on the significance of Trump’s message. What bears repeating is the divide on school choice and the growing popularity of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.
In 2019 the Opportunity Scholarship Program awarded scholarships to over 9,600 students. The program is a life saver. I know; I have talked with countless grateful parents and children who use the program. They say the scholarship has changed their child’s life — and they love it. How much do parents love the program? A 2018 survey of parents whose children receive the scholarship reported that 94 percent of parents were “very satisfied” with their child’s school environment. Seventy-one percent of respondents reported being satisfied with school safety and another 71 percent said like how schools incorporate values and character into the curriculum. These are very high scores. I have yet to see another public program which such high levels of support.
So, what does the public think of the Opportunity Scholarship Program? They love the program too. A January 2020 Civitas-EdChoice Poll found a full two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents support the program, while 22 percent oppose it.
What’s unique about the program is the depth of support across categories. Among voter registrants, 70 percent of Republicans support the Opportunity Scholarship Program, 67 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Unaffiliated. The program is truly bipartisan. Among minority voters the numbers are even higher at 78 percent in favor and 14 percent opposed. The program also enjoys strong support across the ideological spectrum; 73 percent of conservatives support the program, along with 64 percent of moderates and 59 percent of liberals.
Civitas has asked similar support or oppose questions about the Opportunity Scholarship Program for years. In 2019, 85 percent of respondents supported or strongly supported the Opportunity Scholarship Program. In 2018, 71 percent of respondents expressed support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The high levels of support are clearly not an aberration. It’s difficult to identify another program with similar numbers across categories.
Despite the rave reviews, it’s hard to believe there are individuals who want to end the program. Governor Cooper is opposed to school choice. He included language to shut down the program in two of the budgets he submitted to the legislature. He said the Opportunity Scholarship Program lacks accountability. Really? Is he saying mom, dad or a family guardian won’t be able to determine if their child is getting a quality education? Yes, it’s true the school does not have the same requirements as a traditional public school. But does that mean it lacks accountability? If parents are dissatisfied with the program, they share their concerns with school administrators. If problems continue, they leave the school. Accountability comes in different forms.
I’m sure Gov. Cooper would have done the same if he and his wife were dissatisfied with the education their daughter was getting at St. Mary’s School, a private all-girls school in Raleigh. Does Cooper believe his daughter’s school lacked accountability as well? Does he believe the right to a better education is reserved for only those who can afford it?
I commend President Trump for introducing the Education Freedom Scholarship, a program to provide 1 million students the opportunity to leave a failing school and attend a school of their choice. There is a crying need to give children better educational options. It’s unfortunate that not everyone believes so.
Gov. Cooper and the Democrats have cast their lot with the teacher’s unions, who stand entirely opposed to school choice because they believe school choice takes money away from the public schools. In the progressive world, the financial health of the system always trumps improved student outcomes. Remind me again: what is the purpose of education?
Democrats can explain why they oppose such popular programs that change lives. A lot of parents would like to hear. Efforts to limit school choice should make us angry; and parents furious. Because it offers such a stark comparison between parties, expect school choice to continue playing a significant role in both national and state elections. Will parents vote their views on school choice? Possibly. Choice voters may be the biggest wild card in the elections.