by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
A scam. That’s what a recent Raleigh News & Observer editorial called Republican legislative proposals to expand eligibility for the state’s popular Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).
Strong words. But then editors say it’s all part of a plan to break confidence in the public schools. so the argument goes.
Don’t buy it.
A plan to breakdown and privatize public education? Nonsense.
Republicans have been writing state budgets since 2011-12. During that time, appropriations for K-12 public schools have increased 10 years in a row, rising from $7.5 billion in 2011-12 to $9.9 billion in 2020-21.
Over the same time period teachers have received percentage pay increases totaling 27.2 percent. Average teacher pay has risen from about $46,000 to $54,000 or about 18 percent.
Equally important, enrollment in public charter schools has grown to over 127,000 and state appropriations for charter schools have increased to about $817 million.
Does that sound like a plan to break down public education?
Editors contend that broadening eligibility for OSP will accelerate the decline of public schools – and that was the intent all along.
If they truly believed that, why isn’t the News & Observer yelling “scam” when talking about NC Smart Start and federal student financial aid programs? Both programs provide eligible families — many of whom earn more than the median family income in North Carolina — the opportunity to use a voucher at a private or public pre-K provider or public or private institution of higher education.
In both cases, the programs allow parents to choose the best educational option for their child – private or public.
Editors worry about voucher money going to families with higher incomes. A 2019 profile of applicants of the Opportunity Scholarship program found that families that receive vouchers are some of the lowest income households in the state. The median adjusted household income is $16,213 for new voucher recipients and $15,000 for renewal recipients.
Evidently N&O’s editors refuse to warm up to the notion that parents should be able to choose where their child attends school, a sentiment supported by 82 percent of respondents when asked the question in a January 2021 Civitas Poll.
The editors say the Opportunity Scholarship lacks accountability and should be shut down.
They ignore the increases associated with OSP test scores in math (.36 of standard deviation) and language test scores (.44 of standard deviation).
They ignore that 80 percent of parents who had a child enrolled in the Education Savings Account or Opportunity Scholarship program who were satisfied with their child’s program, according to a September 2020, EdChoiceSurvey .
They ignore the fact that any school that accepts OSP students must comply with all health, safety, and nondiscrimination requirements, must meet certain academic and financial requirements and must administer a nationally standardized test to all students whose tuition is paid in part or in full by the scholarship.
They ignore the fact that if parents are dissatisfied, they can withdraw the student. Dissatisfaction – or the lack of it — is certainly reflected in enrollment numbers. OSP, however, has shown a pattern of continued growth and parental satisfaction.
Editors ignore the fact that support for OSP is deep and broad. A January 2021 Civitas Poll found 66 percent of respondents supported the program. Support crossed political lines; 71 percent of Republicans support OSP, 61 percent of Democrats, and 68 percent of Unaffiliateds.
Editors say choice programs like OSP undermine the public schools.
Many school choice programs, because they cost less to operate than traditional public schools, actually save taxpayers money.
In 2019-20, scholarships for private school choice programs comprised 65 one-hundredths of one percent of K-12 public school appropriations.
Choice programs provide thousands of families a lifeline to a better education. This past year has only increased the popularity – and the demand for — programs that allow parents to choose how and where their child is educated.
In Hart v. State the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Opportunity Scholarship Program and affirmed the legislature’s responsibility to support the public schools as well as its right to develop and fund other educational initiatives.
Propelling the canard that school choice is undermining public schools is an assertion that lacks evidence.
Because children are different with different needs, North Carolina is right to offer a variety of educational options for parents and children. A compelling case to do otherwise has not been made. Expanding eligibility for the OSP program benefits, students, parents and taxpayers and makes North Carolina a better place.