Imagine being Mary Russell in Jarvisburg, Tangela Harper in Asheville, Cynthia Franks in Charlotte or any other parent whose children attend schools that aren’t meeting their needs and cannot move to an area with better schools or pay private school tuition.
These parents are among many that PEFNC engaged across the state earlier this year while garnering support for an opportunity scholarship program in North Carolina. These parents told us that a $4,000 scholarship would allow them to send their child to a quality school. With North Carolina’s average private school tuition being $5,400, these parents said they are more than willing to sacrifice to make up the difference.
A recent article referred to opportunity scholarships as “a voucher plan” that siphons money from traditional public schools. But this argument bears no factual truth – the cost of an opportunity scholarship is less than what the state spends per student, thus resulting in savings for the state and taxpayers.
Also, increased funding does not always equal improved academic results. For example, Washington, D.C. has the highest per student expenditure in the country (over $16,000), yet ranks dead last in student performance nationally.
Similarly, North Carolina spent more than $35 billion on education over the past five years yet results for poor children have not improved. Even as the state’s four year cohort graduation rate increased to 80 percent in 2011, the number of poor students passing end-of-grade tests remained flat at 54 percent, according to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). And the achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers on these tests increased to 30 percent, per DPI numbers.
These numbers are unfortunate reminders that our children are not receiving the “sound, basic education” promised by our state constitution. The article states that parents should not have to pay for schooling because it is the state’s responsibility, but what happens when that responsibility is not being met?
Opportunity scholarships serve the neediest children by rebuilding a more effective education system that better delivers on the constitutional promise to educate ALL children. This system does not advocate for one educational model over another, but embodies a collaborative relationship between our traditional and non-traditional schools.
When a constitutional promise isn’t met, poor students should not suffer. Whether a student succeeds in school should not be determined by where they live or how much their parents make. Education reform has become the civil rights issue of our time because the imbalances in the quality of education poor children receive have negative lifelong affects. The conversation regarding education in North Carolina should not be focused on funding one educational model, but ensuring that every child can attend a school that meets their needs, regardless of the model.