Propaganda scholarships

Published February 15, 2024

By Thomas Mills

This week, the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, also known as the voucher scheme, began accepting applications. House Speaker Tim Moore tweeted, “The expanded NC Opportunity Scholarship Program is now open for applications! In fact, the website was so inundated that it crashed at 12:15 am, shortly after going live. Thanks to the NC General Assembly, ALL families of K-12 students are now eligible to apply.”

When Moore says “ALL families,” he’s referring to wealthy families since the legislature eliminated the income cap for the vouchers. The site crashed because North Carolina has so many people already in private schools who now are eligible for state subsidized education. Rich folks who send their children to private schools are about to get a windfall while poor schools are going to lose funding. It’s Robin Hood in reverse.

The whole program is a scam, the epitome of a bait-and-switch. Republicans pushed through their voucher program as a way to level the playing field, offering poor families a way to send their children to private schools when public schools weren’t working for them. Now, they’re saying that families that don’t send their children to public schools shouldn’t have to pay for them. They have dropped any pretense of helping struggling families and moved straight to subsidizing rich people. According to Republicans, rich people have no community obligations.

Let’s be clear. The name “Opportunity Scholarship” is pure propaganda. There are two types of scholarships, need-based and merit-based. Giving vouchers to rich people just because they decide not to send their kids to public schools is a tax break, not a scholarship. And it’s a tax break designed for wealthy people at the expense of poor people.

Republicans are working hard to damage public schools. They fundamentally don’t believe in the responsibility of the state to provide a sound, basic education. They have cut per pupil spending, let teacher pay lag, and reduced support staff in schools. They’ve tried to dictate curriculum to indoctrinate students in a conservative philosophy, all while claiming public schools are brainwashing our kids with left wing ideas. They’ve left us with demoralized teachers and overworked staff and our children are paying the price.

Now, the state Supreme Court is about to get into the act, too. Thirty years ago, a group of students from North Carolina’s poor counties sued the state, claiming that their school systems lacked the funding to provide the quality of education that the state constitution demands. They won their suit and, since that time, the courts have reviewed funding to ensure that poor counties got the money they deserve.

However, with a new court dominated by far-right Republicans, the decision may be overturned. Chief Justice Paul Newby and his band of conservatives justices have not been shy about throwing out precedent, giving new meaning to an activist court. They will decide if the most recent allocation determined by the court will be rescinded. The GOP legislature contends that the court has no business telling the lawmakers how to spend tax dollars.

If the Republicans win, they will have essentially reinterpreted the constitution. Article 9, Section 2 of the constitution reads, “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” Traditionally, the court has interpreted the “uniform system” of “equal opportunities” to mean the quality of education should be as good in poor counties as it is in rich ones. The GOP would render the clause either aspirational or maybe just a suggestion, despite the word “shall.”

The assault on public education in North Carolina is unprecedented and radical. Republicans aren’t just making cuts around the edges. They are changing the way we view public schools and our collective responsibilities. They are shifting resources and increasing the burden of financial responsibility on the poor while reducing the funds from the rich, just like they did with our tax system.

Ironically, the people who suffer the most are the people who make up the GOP base. Rural counties will watch their tax dollars go to wealthy families in urban and suburban areas while their public schools will suffer from increasing lack of revenue. Of course, Republican donors will almost certainly benefit. As they say, partisanship is a helluva drug.