By Graham McDowell
Christian Action League
July 31. 2020
Monday, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) filed a lawsuit to eliminate the Opportunity Scholarships program. In 2013, a Republican-led legislature created the Opportunity Scholarships to provide students from low and middle-income families with up to $4,200 per year to attend a private school. As many as 12,000 students in lower-income families have taken advantage of grants offered by the program.
The philosophy behind Opportunity Scholarships is that the condition of one’s birth shouldn’t predetermine education quality. Its purpose is to empower parents with a choice in their children’s education. It even allows disadvantaged families to choose a Christian school.
Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the NCAE oppose voucher programs and are funding the lawsuit.
NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the Associated Press that “using public money to pay for private schools is part of a broad assault on public schools and on our state Constitution.”
The Opportunity Scholarships program has been challenged in court before. In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that the plaintiffs had not proven Opportunity Scholarships violated the state’s Constitution. However, the court’s majority was Republican at that time. Today the court is dominated by Democrats, who characteristically interpret the Constitution quite differently and are not as likely to have a favorable view of the program.
Plaintiffs in the suit also include parents who are in same-sex marriages and argue that almost all of the private schools near them are Christian schools, which are averse to admitting openly LGBTQ students. They cite rules at these schools that require students to abide by specific Christian doctrinal standards that they reject.
“That’s why they are called private schools,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “No one is forcing same-sex parents to send their children to a Christian school.”
Rev. Creech added:
“Public schools have been grossly failing students for decades now. There has to be a way to allow the fresh air of accountability into the current enclosed state-controlled educational system. Opportunity Scholarships are one way to do this. It introduces the dynamics of a free-market approach – the energies of customer-producer relationships to public education. Accountability becomes the rule rather than the exception. What is more, it returns the control of a child’s education over to whom it belongs – the parents. If you want a good doctor, you look for the best one available. If you want the best auto mechanic, you look for the best you can find. Whether it’s an attorney, an architect, a carpenter, whatever, the choice should be your own. Shouldn’t the same principle apply when seeking the best education for one’s child? Should parents be stuck with having only one choice for their children’s education – stuck with a choice that offers little or nothing to lift their children toward better lives?”
Polling consistently shows that there is strong support for school choice, especially by Black respondents.
In October of last year, U.S. News and World Report reported that the Benenson Strategy Group conducted a nationwide poll which revealed:
“81% of Democratic primary voters and 89% of black Democratic primary voters support expanding public school choice options, including charter schools, and that 80% of voters, including 78% of Democratic primary voters and 84% of black Democratic primary voters, support a proposal to expand the charter schools sector so long as tougher accountability rules are put in place.”
State Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), who co-chairs the Senate Education Committee, said in a press release this week that if the NCAE succeeds with their lawsuit, it will restrict access to private, in-person instruction to only children from wealthy families. Eliminating Opportunity Scholarships would have a disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color, said Ballard.
Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina told the Associated Press that they see the lawsuit as a “political stunt.” Mike Long, the group’s president, said, “This lawsuit demonstrates once again how out-of-touch the NCAE is both with North Carolina families and with national trends in favor of school choice and ever-expanding educational opportunity for every American student.”
Interestingly, this week, President Donald J. Trump announced in a press conference at the White House that if public schools do not meet in-person this school year, then he believes that the monies budgeted for each student should go to parents.
The President, who is a supporter of school choice, said:
“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to a public, private, charter, religious, or homeschool of their choice…If the school is closed, the money should follow the student, so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions. So we would like the money to go to the parents of the student. This way, they can make the decision that’s best for them. We cannot indefinitely stop 50 million American children from going to school – harming their mental, physical and emotional development.”
“God entrusts the education of children to parents and not the state. Opportunity Scholarships are consistent with God’s command. It is wrong – a violation of parental rights – for Caesar to insist on the who, what, when, where, and why of their children’s education,” said Rev. Creech. “Through the years, the courts have steadily eroded parental authority, and a child’s education has come to be seen, not so much as an aspect of parental authority, but as an aspect of civil government. In this case, let’s pray the courts in North Carolina don’t eliminate Opportunity Scholarships and the state reclaim an illegitimate assertion to educational sovereignty.”