NC Governor Wants to End Innovative School Choice Program

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced a proposal to freeze and eventually end an innovative scholarship program that empowers students to personalize their education. If Gov. Cooper gets his way, parents and children may not have this empowering educational choice by 2020.

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarships program has provided options for children of low-income households since 2014. Many are minority students, more than 30% of whom are African American. Parents can use this scholarship, worth up to $4,200, to pay for tuition, transportation, equipment and other necessary private school expenses.

Currently, North Carolina’s scholarship program is only available to low-income families. However, all children deserve access to the flourishing market of educational options programs like this make possible.

Senate Bill 609, which recently passed the state’s upper chamber with a vote of 27-18, seeks to expand eligibility of the program to middle-class residents. But critics, including Gov. Cooper, are fighting against the program by arguing that it costs the state’s public schools money. The truth is that the program is saving the state money.

The $4,200 voucher is equal to less than half of spending per pupil in the state’s public schools. Currently, 44 percent of families with children in North Carolina are eligible and 9,640 students are participating. If expanded to middle-class students, these savings would only increase.

Another favorite critique offered by Gov. Cooper and others is to require participating schools to follow the same “accountability” rules as traditional public schools. But that would undermine the entire point of the program — to open the way for experimentation, innovation and options in our schools.

Accountability is best provided by parents who are responsible for the school they choose. This type of customer accountability allows competition to produce progress and reform.

Opposition, like Gov. Cooper’s, to this program deprives the state of the benefits of competition. School choice programs offer a far more effective way for states to finance education—by financing students, not schools. This is a form of real competition for all schools powered by the ultimate beneficiary, the state’s children.

The small-scale scholarship program already in place in North Carolina has demonstrated that even a small fraction of the student body using it can create a significant effect in improving the quality of public schools and attracting new and innovative private schools. The possibility for improvement in North Carolina schools is being limited by the small scale of this scholarship program.

If more students in North Carolina were eligible for the program, the current education situation would be transformed. The larger market would attract new start-ups and give innovation and enterprise more opportunities.

The real culprit? Public schools in North Carolina are afraid they will have to meet the competition or close shop. Instead of only funding a broken system, North Carolina could get serious about investing in students and good teachers by allowing its’ successful scholarship program to grow and increase economic opportunity for the next generation.