Unmasking progressives and their “commitment” to educational opportunity

  • Progressive Democrats have introduced numerous bills in North Carolina to limit or end school choice programs.
  • Progressives pride themselves on working to end racial discrimination, inequity and limited educational opportunity.
  • Efforts by Progressives to limit or end programs that directly address those problems confirm they are more concerned with power than with people.

Progressive Democrats continue their war on educational freedom. Last week three freshman Democratic Senators – Natasha Marcus, (D-Mecklenburg), Sam Searcy (D-Wake) and Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) – filed a bill (SB 583 to freeze current funding and to eliminate future funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).  The bill is similar to a provision in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget which freezes scholarships at current levels, and eventually ends the opportunity for other low-income families to receive a scholarship.

So, what is so harmful about OSP that it would generate several proposals to terminate the popular program? The OSP program provides low-income students with scholarships of up to $4,200 to attend a non-public school that best fits their needs. This year, according to the State Education Assistance Authority, the agency that administers OSP, there were over 11,900 new applicants and over 9,600 recipients of the scholarship. Enrollment in OSP has grown 16 percent in the last year. In addition, a recent survey by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina found 97 percent of OSP parents were happy with their academic progress and 97 percent of parents were satisfied or very satisfied with the school of their choice.[i]

Such high levels of satisfaction are unheard of among government programs. Senators Marcus, Searcy and Nickel want to not only end the Opportunity Scholarship Program but also transfer scholarship dollars to local school districts to hire more staff and distribute unused funds for capital costs. Because of the way the formula is written, most of the funding for capital costs would go not to small rural districts where the need is greatest, but to larger school districts like Wake County or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Such ideas come right out of the Progressive playbook. Lawmakers like Marcus, Searcy and Nickel talk frequently about the importance of education, about helping the less fortunate and ensuring children get a good education. However, introducing laws to end a program that provides children the opportunity to access a quality education is at odds with all those stated ideals.

Bills like Senate Bill 583 show that Marcus, Searcy and Nickel are not committed to helping disadvantaged children but only to maintaining the viability of a public-school system that more and more families are choosing to leave – even if it means eliminating educational opportunity for low- income children.

While this hypocrisy may sound surprising, it shouldn’t be. Civitas has written extensively about how many Democrats and Progressives have been vocal in their opposition to school choice (see here and here). Many lawmakers on the Progressive Left frequently tell us about their concern for inequity, racial discrimination, disparities in academic achievement and student discipline and the sad plight of minority and low-income students. However, the fact is, when Progressives are confronted with evidence that shows how many low-income and minority students benefit greatly from charter schools and other school choice programs, they only obsess about the program’s impact on the public schools.

Democrats rationalize such a position by saying school choice programs use money that would have normally gone to the public schools. That is, the assumption is school choice programs siphon money and resources from the public schools. Senators Marcus, Searcy and Nickel want to correct that alleged problem.

Under Senate Bill 583, OSP money can be diverted to hire additional staff in the public schools and unused money would be redirected to help fund school capital costs. The problem is; the assumption. School choice programs do not siphon money from the public schools. When the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2015 it ruled that public funds could be spent on other types of education besides the public schools. The court noted that the creation of OSP provided additional educational opportunities, served a public purpose and moreover did not create an alternate system of publicly-funded private schools.

Rather than thinking school choice programs siphon money from the public schools, some basic calculations reveal just the opposite. In the case of OSP, the state can spend up to $4,200 per student per year to educate a student. If the student was in a traditional public school the state would be spending $6,153 per student.[iii]  That’s an actual savings of $1,953 per student. Since that calculation reflects the maximum scholarship offer ($4,200) – there are many recipients who are awarded less than the $4,200 maximum — the savings per student is larger. But back to SB 583. Clearly, Senators Marcus, Searcy and Wiley believe they have support for their actions. However, a strong case can be made that such ideas are outside the mainstream in North Carolina. The Opportunity Scholarship Program remains a very popular program. A found that 85 percent of respondents support the program. That includes 93 percent of African-Americans, 87 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Unaffiliated voters.[iv] Lest one think this is an aberration, Civitas has been polling on Opportunity Scholarships since 2013 and support for the program hasn’t dropped below 60 percent. In 2017 it polled at 71 percent.[v]  Such numbers speak to the depth to which parents want to be able to determine how and where their child is educated.

The Progressive war on educational freedom is real. Last month Gov. Cooper submitted a budget that froze and eventually eliminated the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Earlier this month, Senator Dan Blue and Jay Chaudhuri introduced laws (SB 247) to place a moratorium on charter school growth pending further study by the legislature. Senate Bill 583 is yet more evidence of the same. Progressives don’t want parents controlling how and where their children are educated. Many Democratic lawmakers certainly talk a good game about a personal commitment to the poor, ending discrimination and giving endless lip service to expanding opportunity. The fact is; however, they don’t want parents controlling how and where children are educated. You soon find out that what matters most to such lawmakers is not expanding educational opportunity to the poor and disadvantaged, – but controlling and preserving the hierarchy of the establishment public-school system. Legislators who support Senate Bill 583 and other proposals to end school choice programs have the same outlook. They value a system of power over parents and students. It’s something we would do well to never forget.

[i] Parent Survey, Opportunity Scholarship Program, Survey was conducted by Parents for Educational Freedom North Carolina, between November 25 and December 12 with a total of 1,448 families participating in the survey. For additional information see:  https://www.pefnc.org/ospsurvey. Accessed April 9, 2019

[ii] Hart et al v. State of North Carolina and North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. Case number 372A14, Filed July 23, 2015. Available online at: https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=1&pdf=33175. Accessed April 9, 2019.

[iii] Statistical Profile Public Schools of North Carolina published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. See Table 22. Available online at: onhttp://apps.schools.nc.gov/ords/f?p=145:32:::NO:::Accessed on April 10, 2019

[iv] Civitas Poll, January 2019. Access full results at: https://1ttd918ylvt17775r1u6ng1adc-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SCWPoll2019.pdf

[v] For additional information on Civitas Poll results, see: https://www.nccivitas.org/polling/

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Author: Bob Luebke


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