Message comes before over 1,200 march at General Assembly in support
RALEIGH, N.C. – Mary and Kenny Russell travelled five hours on Tuesday in hopes that their story will help lead to the creation of a program allowing families like theirs to afford schools that can address their children’s unique academic needs.
Their nine-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son are both struggling at their current schools. They want to place their children in academic environments that can meet both their needs, but cannot afford to do so.
Mary Russell spoke during a rally where House Majority Leader Paul Stam and Rep. Bryan Holloway, chairman of the House Education Committee, announced proposed legislation creating the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which has bipartisan support, would allow children from lower income families to receive nonpublic school scholarships from nonprofit organizations. These scholarships are funded by corporations that would receive tax credits for their contributions. Currently only eight states have similar programs.
“We need programs like this to help parents like us provide the quality education each of us wants for our children,” Mary Russell said. “A paycheck should not determine whether your child is in a classroom that truly helps them learn or not.”
The rally was followed by a march where more than 1,200 people rallied and chanted while walking around the General Assembly building in support of the program. The turnout at today’s rally and march, organized by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), exceeded the organization’s expectations, said Darrell Allison, PEFNC president.
“We initially sought out to have 200 people to join us today, but in a matter of two weeks, a couple of hundred turned into more than 1,200 parents and children representing hundreds of thousands of families across our state,” Allison said. “This turnout shows the critical demand for a program that can help families obtain a quality education and help close our state’s socioeconomic achievement gap.”
More than 336,000 children from low income families failed end-of-grade tests in 2010-11, representing a quarter of all public school students in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI). In 24 school districts, the achievement gap for low income children on end-of-grade tests is above the state average of 29.5 percent, per DPI numbers.