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Losing an election is humbling, but it’s also extremely disappointing. Believe me, I know. After serving three terms in the North Carolina Senate, I recently lost my bid for reelection in Mecklenburg County.

Losing an election has a silver lining for me: time for self-reflection, and a chance to think deeply about the policies I supported in office.

Did I represent my constituents properly? Did I reflect the values of my district? Did I fight for what I believe in? Those questions run through my mind daily, and I like to think the answer is “yes” to all three.

That’s why, once again, I am disappointed with Gov. Roy Cooper’s new two-year budget that would eventually eliminate the Opportunity Scholarship Program. These state-sponsored scholarships empower low-income families across North Carolina to send their children to a school they believe will be the best fit — many for the first time.

In my back yard of Mecklenburg County, 651 young minds are in the school of their parents’ choice thanks to an Opportunity Scholarship. And just over 9,500 students statewide are benefiting from this program.

Let me be clear: when I say low-income, I’m talking about real, hard-working folks. According to a report from N.C. State University, the median household income for Opportunity Scholarship families is just over $16,000 a year.

Raising a family on that type of income is uncomfortable, to say the least, and this program is a lifeline for them that represents equal access to educational choice. These families are no longer relegated to a school that isn’t working for them just because they’re in the wrong zip code or don’t have enough in their bank account.

And it’s clear that these families are happy with their choice. A new survey from Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) of nearly 1,500 scholarship recipients showed that 97 percent are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the program. That’s why I’ll keep fighting for families like these as a board member of PEFNC.

As a Democrat, I stood side-by-side with Gov. Cooper on many issues, including almost all related to education. All but one, that is. Our governor has made it clear that he not only opposes the Opportunity Scholarship Program — he’s downright hostile toward it.

Why, governor? Why stand in the way of thousands of low-income families asking for a chance?

I can’t say it much better than this statement from PEFNC President Mike Long: “What is Gov. Cooper’s message to the thousands of new families applying for the Opportunity Scholarship? It tells them he is not interested in making real investments in their families and children for a determined North Carolina, but instead the governor is determined to protect the education establishment over them.”

Since the program’s creation, 50,000 new applications have been submitted. Today, over 7,000 new families are applying for scholarships for the 2019-2020 school year. Yet the message from Gov. Cooper’s budget to these families is clear: sorry, you’re not welcome here.

The governor’s rhetoric only further advances a false narrative that must be one or the other. If you’re an advocate for public schools, you can’t support policies like the Opportunity Scholarship Program. I’m here to tell you we are better than that, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous and shortsighted.

I’m disappointed, and I’d ask that the governor take some time to reflect on the importance of this program. Put yourself in the shoes of the thousands of families in our state who desperately need these scholarships.

I bet they are disappointed knowing you don’t support the program. But, I can guarantee that they are determined to provide a better education for their children. They’ll fight to find a way, with or without your support.

Joel Ford

Joel Ford represented N.C. Senate District 38 in Mecklenburg County for six years, he is now a member of the Board of Directors at Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.