Why school districts and the left oppose the “Opportunity scholarship program”

| March 31, 2014

Bill Moore, Beaufort Observerby Bill Moore, Beaufort Observer, March 30, 2014.

Republicans at the state level are undergoing an attack from the Left over the opportunity Scholarship program for low income students. The most recent letter attacked Representative Bob Steinburg over this issue. I have decided not to make this a personal political attack that so often happens, and treat the issue as an Educator of many years. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a teacher in NY  and a high school principal in both NY and in North Carolina. I have also held positions as a building delegate in a teachers union and served on the administrators’ union executive board at both the local and state level.

It is true the NC School Boards Association, and Teacher groups have united to fight the new pilot program. This pilot program allows 2400 low income students the opportunity to take their scholarship and go to another school that may be better suited for them and their parents may not be able to otherwise afford.

As  an educator, I support any attempt to help students who are not being successful in schools they currently attend. The truth is no matter how good a school is, it may not be the right fit for all students. Low income families have never had the ability to transfer their child to a school that better meets their needs. This pilot program begins to address those needs.

Qualifying students would get $4200/ year to help with tuition. Students could take that money and go to another school. They might be Private, Charter or even pay tuition to a different District that better meets the students needs.

If all I say is true why would School Boards and Educational Associations be against the program? Unfortunately the answer is financial. Districts are paid and allotted staff by the number of students attending. In NC we spend about $8800/child for education. If a child leaves the district to a new school, the $4200 is deducted from the school allotment and given to the new school. The District did not lose all the funds but has lost some of the funding as it left with the child. The real danger to them is if the pilot program becomes successful.  If low income students go to different settings and start to become highly successful, Districts will not only lose additional funds as it expands, but they  might be forced to look at the programs they offer students and revise them.

Districts do not want to lose any money as admittedly their budgets are generally tight. Educational Associations are afraid the loss of students/ tuition may cause teacher cuts as less may be necessary and might affect money to support the teaching staff with salaries or supplies. Please understand, I am not blaming this on the teachers in the classrooms. In my years at Holmes HS , I have never worked with a more dedicated or professional staff. As far as professional associations, it is the job of these unions/ professional groups  to protect their members jobs, interests and work for increased benefits. They do that well.

One of the complaints about the program is it will not be available for all students to apply. Critics call this unfair. Remember it is a pilot program that will be evaluated and if successful expanded. Instead of trying it wholesale with massive disruptions, the Legislatures set up it up a small scale pilot in order to evaluate it  before a general implementation. this causes less disruptions and if unsuccessful, less money wasted.

Another complaint is it is not fair to all students. Reality is we have continually offered additional help to those in need. Special Education classes is one example of offering select help as needed. Another is District’s development of Alternative Education programs for those not being successful. This “opportunity program” allows students to get the setting they need to be successful.

The issue is who looks out for what is best for the individual student? Not Professional Associations unless those needs coincide with the needs of the member groups. ( and many times they do). It is a shame when Districts put the well being of their financial status over the needs of individual students. You would think they would want students who they have not been able to successfully reach get the chance they need to be successful and become productive citizens.

All Students have different needs and skills. As parents, adults and educators we need to support these different needs and realize our schools cannot be everything to everybody.  Further, when a program is developed that successfully addresses some of these needs we need to embrace it. If successful, we need to call for its eventual expansion and help students and parents to find the right place for their child to maximize their educational experience. In an ever changing and technical world, the best indicator for success as an adult is a quality education.

I salute the Republican State legislature for attempting to address this issue.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

Comments (2)

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  1. James Barrett says:

    Very convenient to have an argument with yourself, thus ignoring many issues. The real reason school boards oppose this is that the private schools aren’t educating everyone as we have to do. They aren’t held to any accountability standards the way we are. And research shows they don’t do any better job than we do. So why would NC want to fragment our $ for no gain (and less accountability)? If you want competition, fine. But it has to be on a level playing field and it can’t just be for some schools to pick and choose which students they get. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to students while hurting the school systems who are charged with educating the vast majority of NC students and padding the pockets of private corporations. NC is strongest when we work together to move our state forward. True public schools are the place where that happens every day — where everybody comes together to grow and learn. Please don’t destroy that which makes our state great.

    • James Barrett says:

      One more thing — you’re not representing the truth with your #s on per pupil spending. The $8800 figure is combining all state, local and federal spending. The state allocation which the $4200 will be deducted from is closer to $5000 (varies across districts). And much of the rest of the funding is per student as well, so if students aren’t enrolled in public schools, how will that funding be available to the district?