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Perspective | Proposed expansion of ‘opportunity scholarships’ undermines public education in North Carolina

The General Assembly is proposing to divert millions of taxpayer dollars, in an arguably unconstitutional manner, away from the public schools and into the hands of private and parochial schools with none of the transparency and accountability required of the public schools.

Language originally in Senate Bill 406/House Bill 823 and then included in the Senate budget proposal would use tax dollars to support “Opportunity Scholarships” for the private education of children, not just from low-wealth families, but for the first time, to wealthy families and those already enrolled in private schools. The proposal would provide over $2.2 billion in taxpayer money for private school vouchers over the next 10 years.

Egregiously, the General Assembly is allowing these private and religious schools to discriminate against the children of the state based on religious beliefs and the personal characteristics of voucher applicants. Private and parochial schools can pick and choose students who align with their beliefs and reject others. The public schools are open to all regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, and religious or political beliefs.

It was the genius of the 1868 North Carolina Constitution which, in Article 9, made clear that a responsibility of state government was to provide for a free public education for all the children of the state, including children who were historically denied that opportunity due to race, religion, or financial resources. The constitution did not include provisions for financing private and religious education with public tax dollars.

North Carolina’s Republican and Democratic governors and enlightened leaders of the General Assembly have long championed, if not always well-financed, public education in North Carolina. Rather than divert millions of our tax dollars to unaccountable private and often discriminatory schools, the General Assembly should address the unmet needs of the public schools (mostly rural) across North Carolina, as documented in the long-standing Leandro case. 

Embarrassingly, North Carolina now ranks near the bottom in school funding effort. Beginning teacher pay in North Carolina is now below every state in the Southeast, except West Virginia. North Carolina is now nearly $12,000 below the national average for teacher pay. Mississippians can now say, “Thank God for North Carolina.”

The ideology driving this proposal is intended to degrade public education. They shift the scales of responsibility from doing what is best for the common good of the people of North Carolina to a self-serving ‘what’s in it for me’ — at taxpayer expense.

The great majority of North Carolinians love and support their local public schools and teachers. They also know that a well-educated, civically engaged public is key to creating and sustaining a flourishing state in which to live.

We understand what our nation’s founding fathers understood, that public education is essential to maintaining a democracy. The diversion of public money to private and religious education not only undermines our public schools, but it also undermines our free and democratic society. 

We urge the General Assembly to reject the proposal.

Friends of Public Education

Steering Committee

Charles R. Coble, Larry Coble, Janice Davis, Nancy Farmer, Bill Harrison, Dick Jones, Larry Mabe, and Michael D. Priddy

Supporters as of 7.25.23

Alisa Chapman, Paula Dempsey, John Dunn, Sr., Elaine Franklin, Evelyn Gerdes, Janice Nicholson, Joe Peel, Melissa McCullough, Lennox McLendon, Matthew Ripley-Moffitt, Lloyd Spruill, Don Stedman, Charles Thompson, Fran Wescott, Leslie Alexander, Del Burns, Melody Clodfelter, Allison Coble, Deanna Coley, Lillie Cox, Ann Davis, Carl Lashley, Emily Lipe, Kim Morrison, Tricia McManus, Gene Moore, Lory Morrow, Dub Potts, Carolyn Jackson, Tony Jackson, Ron Hargrave, Donna Peters, Deanne Meadows, Charles Morris, Amanda Hartness, Travis Reeves, Rick Reitzug, Jill Renhardt, Mark Rumley, Randy Shaver, Jim Simeon, Ron Singletary, Bill Steed, Karen Sumner, Darrell Walker, Jeff Wallace, Max Walser, Barbara Zwadyk, Jack Charles Boger, Randy Bridges, Jim Causby, David Diamont, Margaret Dickson, John Dornan, Bev Emory , Rick Glazier, Tom Hatch, Jim Merrill, Ann McColl, Bill McNeal, Bob Orr, Donna Peters, Lee Spruill, Earl Vaughan, Jr, Jane Wettach,  Gary Childers, Scott Elliott, June Atkinson, Paul Joyce, Deb McManus, Barbara Chapman, Elizabeth Colbert, Randy Collier,  Gerry House, David Lewis, Gus Martin, Denise Morton, Tom Williams, Lynn Antil, Libby Carter, Bridget Johnson, K. Kent, Helena Wallin-Miller, Helen Ladd, and Ted Fiske

Bill Harrison

Bill Harrison is the former superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System. He chaired the N.C. State Board of Education from 2009-2013.