GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. – The North Carolina Education Association and its supporters have filed a lawsuit to halt implementation of the state’s new Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is designed gives poor students in bad public schools an opportunity for a better education.
State lawmakers approved the voucher program last legislative session, and starting next fall low income students will be eligible for up to $4,200 per year through the program to use toward private school tuition, which is far less per student than what taxpayers send to public schools.
But the NCEA is suing the state to stop the program because union leaders are concerned it will reduce the amount of funding to public schools, in turn reducing the demand for NCEA teachers, whose dues payments are the association’s sole source of revenue.
The NCEA claims the program violates a provision in the state constitution that requires tax dollars to “be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools,”HPE.com reports.
The legal argument is one teachers unions have used in several states to block education opportunities for poor and minority students, with little success. Regardless of the legality, NCEA supporters are attempting to paint the program and other K-12 reforms approved by the legislature in recent years as an attack on educators. The strategy seems to be to leverage frustrations with the legislature’s decision to eliminate tenure, teacher assistants, and extra pay for college credits, to rally the union troops against the Opportunity Scholarship Program.
All of the changes amount to less money for traditional public schools, and the NCEA and other unions have many convinced that funding is directly proportional to student success, which is absolutely false.
“This puts taxpayers in the position of funding private education for the few, and I think that’s a misuse of tax dollars,” former state superintendent Mike Ward told HPE.com. “That’s not what taxpayers want.”
What taxpayers want is a quality education for their children. Period.
A 2012 public poll on school choice in North Carolina found more than half of voters think the state’s public school system is “fair” or “poor,” while only about 45 percent said it’s “good” or “excellent.”
The survey, conducted by the Friedman Foundation, showed only 8 percent of respondents are aware of the amount the state spends on each public school student – $8,518. Nearly six out of 10 North Carolina voters said they support school vouchers like those provided by the Opportunity Scholarship Program, while only 32 percent oppose them, according to the Friedman research.
So public opinion is clearly against the NCEA.
And the public is likely to back the voucher program even more when it realizes vouchers will cost less than half of what it costs to send a kid to a public school.
The NCEA’s lawsuit isn’t about what’s in the best interest of the low-income students the Opportunity Scholarship Program is designed to serve. The lawsuit is the NCEA’s attempt to maintain its monopoly on teaching in North Carolina, a monopoly that’s obviously costing taxpayers much more than necessary, with very limited returns on the investment.