by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
School choice advocates in North Carolina had two reasons to smile this week.
First. on Wednesday, Tamika Walker Kelley, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and one of the plaintiffs in a case challenging the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with the Wake County Superior Court. The case, filed in July of 2020 challenged the constitutionality of North Carolina’s voucher program which provided eligible recipients up to $4,200 to attend the private school of their choice.
The decision to dismiss is great news. It means those wanting to end the popular program were beginning to recognize they didn’t have a strong case. It also means that schools, parents, students, and educators can get back to ensuring that all kids are getting a good education.
The second dose of good news came with the introduction on Wednesday of House Bill 823, Choose Your School Choose Your Future. The bill’s chief sponsor is new Republican Representative Tricia Cotham. Her leadership on this bill is no insignificant development. Also relevant is that Speaker Tim Moore is listed as a primary sponsor of the bill. Briefly stated, the bill duplicates SB 406 which was introduced in the Senate late last month. Among other things, that legislation ends income eligibility requirements for the Opportunity Scholarship, ties the size of the award to income and requires 50 percent of all scholarship funds be used for eligible students in households below the level needed to qualify for federal free or reduced-price lunch programs. Read more about SB 406 the bill here.
There is a lot here to be happy about here. A dark cloud has been lifted over the state’s largest voucher program and lawmakers are finally responding favorably to growing public pressure for more educational options.
Choose Your School, Choose Your Future is one bill in two different legislative chambers. It is championed .by key legislative leaders in each chamber, including former-Democrat turned Republican State Representative Tricia Cotham. Cotham’s vote will certainly be necessary to withstand an expected veto by Governor Cooper. However her willingness to get out in front of the issue and signal her intentions is a very good sign.
There hasn’t been this much excitement regarding school choice in years.
While these bills are a good start, there is still work to be done to get them across the finish line. When that happens, our dream becomes reality for all North Carolinians. Then we can celebrate — but not before.