Your View: Guest Column - Bill rescues students drowning in academic failure
BY DARRELL ALLISON
Before debate surrounding House Bill 944 (Opportunity Scholarship Act) heats up, let’s establish a clear understanding of what this measure is and isn’t.
House Bill 944 allows low-income and working-class children to receive opportunity scholarship grants to attend the schools of their choice. To qualify, they must be in public school and have a family income up to 225 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (about $51,800 for a family of four). These grants will not exceed $4,200 per student – less than 60 percent of what the state and local counties spend on average per-student.
It’s easy to use the word “voucher” to describe such a measure – usually in a negative context. But what it has meant by application for hundreds of thousands of students across the country is the opportunity to obtain a higher-quality education. In Florida, independent studies have found their decade-old choice program has helped raise their ranking from being the least effective in adequately educating low-income and minority children to one of the best in our nation. So I prefer using the term “opportunity scholarship” because it is a more appropriate term for what it does for children in need.
Such measures are often described as a Republican effort to destroy our traditional public schools. But the primary sponsors behind House Bill 944 are a group of bipartisan leaders — Democratic Reps. Marcus Brandon of High Point and Ed Hanes of Winston-Salem and Republican Reps. Brian Brown of Greenville and Rob Bryan of Charlotte.
These leaders understand that we need our public schools to have all the resources they need for success, but not every school can meet the needs of every student. In Guilford County, within the past five years only 46 percent of low-income students passed end-of-grade tests (EOGs) compared to 80 percent of more affluent students, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. These numbers illustrate the necessity for our low-income students to have additional educational options.
This measure is not to privatize public education but to provide students in desperate need the ability to attend schools that can meet their educational needs. With 1.5 million students in our public schools, our traditional school system will continue to be the main education vehicle for North Carolina’s students.
While critics say opportunity scholarships are unconstitutional, a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision not only established the constitutionality of these programs, but they’ve been continuously upheld, including most recently in Indiana.
Then there’s this common misconception – opportunity scholarships fund unaccountable and unaffordable private schools. Under House Bill 944, schools receiving scholarship students must be accredited by the state and by a separate accrediting agency. Comparisons in learning gains between scholarship students and their public school peers will be reported annually and made public. Parents must endorse scholarship checks at the school in order for the grant to cover tuition. Schools receiving more than $300,000 in scholarships must complete a financial review. Simply put, we must hold these schools accountable to ensure our children’s academic success.
It’s easy to say that a $4,200 opportunity scholarship cannot cover private school tuition. But when excluding the top 10 percent of highest-priced schools, the average statewide tuition is just $4,901, according to a tuition study of the state’s 700 private schools by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. This figure is more reflective of the tuition for the majority of North Carolina’s private schools.
Undoubtedly, we must continue to strengthen our traditional public schools. But with more than 360,000 low-income and working-class students statewide failing EOGs last year and the statewide EOG achievement gap increasing to 30 percent, there is no debate regarding the demand for this measure when it comes to helping students who need the most help. House Bill 944 (Opportunity Scholarship Act) is a lifesaver for the hundreds of thousands of poor children in our state who are drowning in academic failure with no other educational option.
Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. For more information on PEFNC visit www.pefnc.org.
Mariana Qubein’s ‘green thumb’ shines
I attended the Arbor Day Celebration at High Point University, and Mariana Qubein has our university in beautiful bloom! I refer to this as her “green thumb.”
There are only five other colleges in North Carolina that receive an Arbor Day award. Qubein has created over 20 botanical gardens, and she has envisioned future fruition of this campus. As I sat in the amphitheater and viewed the landscaping, it appeared as a mural.
This campus is environmentally conscious with its ultimate beauty. I told her these grounds are being transformed from state-of-the-art to the state-of-the-earth with her myriad transformations.
Mariana Qubein refers to this as her therapeutic work-out; she has created a distinguished geometrical exterior in full color. I think of space explorations as being at Cape Canaveral, but you have to see her treasured, personalized picturesque space explorations!
HERMAN HUNTER SR.
YOUR VIEW POLLS
A proposal to expand required background checks to all commercial firearms purchases, including at gun shows, has been defeated in the U.S. Senate. What’s your view? In 30 words or less (no name, address required), email us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://www.hpe.com/opinion/x609281889/Your-View-Poll-Gun-purchase-background-checks and post a comment. Here is one response:
• Shame on our elected officials for defeating this bill. They put their political needs ahead of safety of their constituents. Shame on NRA for lying for their own political needs.
President Obama’s budget calls for a 94-cent per pack federal tax increase on cigarettes. What do you think about this tax proposal? In 30 words or less (no name, address required), email us your thoughts to email@example.com or go to — http://www.hpe.com/opinion/polls/x609281906/Your-View-Poll-Cigarette-tax-hike — and post a comment.