By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
December 19, 2014
RALEIGH – Friday of last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court granted a petition that allows the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) to process Opportunity Scholarship applications for the 2015-16 school year.
The Opportunity Scholarships program was enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. The program earmarked $10 million to provide grants of up to $4200 for some 2,000 low-income students (those who qualify for reduced price lunches) to be used at a private school of the parents’ choosing.
More than twice the number (5,500) applications for the 2000 Opportunity Scholarships to be given were filed in the first year, the fall of 2014. But the application process was short-circuited when the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association challenged the programs’ constitutionality in court.
However, The Institute for Justice declared the ulterior motives behind the lawsuits:
“The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA), and their allies are trying desperately to get rid of the program before scholarships can be awarded. The NCAE and the NCSBA, along with North Carolina citizens and local school boards, have filed two lawsuits alleging that the program violates the North Carolina Constitution. The teachers’ association and school boards fear that if low-income families begin to follow their wealthier peers to private schools that offer an education that parents prefer to that of the public schools, the low-performing public schools will no longer have a captive clientele with no alternative but to accept the inadequate education offered there. Jobs could be lost and the teachers association could lose income from dues.”
Karen Duquette, president of Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), said the decision by the state’s highest court is “excellent news for the thousands of families who missed the opportunity to participate in the program’s first year and are eager for an educational option that best fits their needs.” She also said the State Supreme Court’s action will not only allow new families to apply, but the court is showing a strong sign by allowing existing scholarships recipients to continue on the program this year, “which is hopefully a good indicator about the future of the program for next year and beyond.”
PEFNC reported on a meeting that took place in Concord late November of more than 200 parents, school leaders and elected officials from six counties that lauded the “early academic and social gains their children have experienced” since the program started. The meeting was sponsored by PEFNC so that policymakers could hear from parents.
Ann Wooten, school administrator for Crossroads Christian Academy in Statesville, said, “When you put these children in a loving environment where they know they are loved, they will do their best. They will rise to the occasion.” One fifth of Wooten’s students are enrolled with Opportunity Scholarships. Wooten added, “My prayer is that all students are able to learn in an environment that works for them.”
Lisa Smothers, who has four children attending Tabernacle Christian School in Monroe, said, “This program is an absolute blessing for us. Two of my children were in public school dealing with bomb threats and bullying, which made it difficult to go to school every day and feel safe. Now, nothing makes me happier than seeing my children smiling and literally jumping up and down when I pick them up from school.
“To the legislators, thank you for helping my children smile again and love learning again.” Wooten added, “I thank you not just for my children but for all children.”
The Supreme Court also granted a motion for defendants to “expedite the appeal,” which according to PEFNC means a decision on the constitutionality of the program could be issued as early as mid-February.