The Winston-Salem Journal published a new op-ed by PEFNC President Darrell Allison (link available here) today. The piece examines how not all children are receiving the quality education they need, as a “one size fits all” model is not working for them. Read how HB 1104 NC Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program can help build an educational system that effectively teaches all children.
To those who consider House Bill 1104, the N.C. Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, solely a Republican measure, here’s a recent comment by Democratic Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J.: “When people tell me they’re against school choice … I look at them and say as soon as you’re willing to send your kid to a failing school … then I’ll be with you.”
Booker isn’t the only Democrat who believes this; just ask Reps. Marcus Brandon, William Brisson, James Crawford Jr. and Dewey Hill — all co-sponsors of House Bill 1104. This measure would allow corporations to receive tax credits for contributions that would specifically help poor children attend a nonpublic school through scholarships.
House Bill 1104 is needed because more than 336,000 poor kids failed end-of-grade tests last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. This staggering number represents over a quarter of all traditional public-school students. Equally alarming is that in Forsyth County, only 42 percent of poor students passed end-of-grade-tests over the past five years, compared to nearly 80 percent of their wealthier peers, according to DPI.
These numbers not only mirror statewide results but are an unfortunate reminder that our children are not receiving the “sound, basic education” as promised by our state constitution. Moreover, a key argument against education-reform measures is that they rob traditional schools of necessary funds. But this bears no factual truth, nor does increased funding 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 over $35billion on education over the past five years, yet results for poor children have worsened.
Take the Leandro case, where public education for poor children was so inadequate in five rural counties that Judge Howard Manning equated it to academic genocide. Since Leandro began over a decade ago, regrettably, we have lost an entire generation of children. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of children in these five counties learning in school districts where the number of poor students passing end-of-grade tests dropped by 16 percent over the last 10 years, per DPI numbers.
This further illustrates how low-income children are not being adequately served in a “one size fits all” educational model, yet when solutions like House Bill 1104 are introduced they are unfairly labeled as “the latest effort to dismantle public education,” according to state Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. However, given the dismal numbers for low-income students, I argue, for them, public education is already dismantled.
Thus, House Bill 1104′s purpose is not to dismantle but to serve the neediest children by reassembling a more effective education system that better delivers on the constitutional promise to educate all children. Such programs are proven to help Triad parents like Wende Patterson, who are tired of receiving no credit for wanting to improve the education their children receive.
“It’s not fair that the way my child learns is dependent upon my income,” she said. “For my children to be able to receive a scholarship and learn at a school that can cater to their needs would change their lives.”
School leaders often complain of parental apathy, especially where we see long-term underperformance of poor and mostly minority children. Therefore, let’s give parents like Wende an opportunity through House Bill 1104 to either put up or shut up. This measure is not about overthrowing our public-education system, but an ideal way to complement our public education system. At the end of the day, it is about making education more fair and equitable for all children, regardless of income or ZIP code, so that they can fully receive their constitutional right to a quality education for generations to come.