Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
'One of 4,500' project seeks to build support for Opportunity Scholarships
RALEIGH A group advocating for low-income families to benefit from a tuition voucher program that's tied up in court is using the Internet and social media to tell the stories of parents who want to take advantage of the options offered by the Opportunity Scholarships.
"The clock is ticking here," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a group backing educational alternatives and reform efforts. He said that the YouTube videos
posted by the group will afford parents who have "gone the extra mile" to get an alternative education for their children to share their stories.
Twenty-five parents located across all of the state's geographic regions will tell their stories, Allison said.
The Opportunity Scholarships, or vouchers, would provide as much as $4,200 in scholarships for children from lower-income families to offset the cost of attending private schools. To be eligible in the first year, the children receiving the vouchers must have been enrolled in a public school the previous year and qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches.
In February, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued a preliminary injunction against the vouchers. Parents who have intervened in the lawsuit and are represented by the Institute for Justice are attempting to get the injunction overturned at the N.C. Supreme Court after the N.C. Court of Appeals refused to do so.
Plaintiffs challenging the program claim that the vouchers violate a provision in the N.C. Constitution that says that the public school fund is to be used exclusively for public schools. Supporters of the vouchers argue that the opponents are misapplying and misreading that provision of the N.C. Constitution.
Meanwhile, Allison argues that alternatives are needed for children from lower-income families who are not being served by the state's public schools.
"In North Carolina, if you're a student from a low-income family, here are the statistics that we're faced with," Allison said in a video released to promote the upcoming series.
"Less than 30 percent of low income students currently enrolled in public schools are proficient in reading and math," Allison said. "North Carolina, we're better than that."
Allison said that earlier this year, over a 25-day period the Opportunity Scholarships program received more than 4,500 applications from low-income counties from 95 counties across the state.
"We were experiencing tremendous momentum, but then the bottom fell out," Allison said, referring to Hobgood's injunction.
In addition to preventing scholarships from being awarded to low-income students, the order halts administrative actions by the state to implement the program. For example, the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority, which is charged with administering the scholarships, is prohibited by the order from even conducting a lottery to whittle the 4,500 applicants down to 2,400, which is the number of scholarships that can be awarded during the first year.
That order, Allison said, "yanked the rug out from under them."
The N.C. Association of Educators and the N.C. School Boards Association brought the legal challenge to the voucher program. The two lawsuits have been combined in Wake County Superior Court.
"We aim to fight for this program legally," Allison said. "And I am confident that ultimately we will prevail."
Allison noted that officials have heard from supporters and opponents of the program, legislators on both sides, and lawyers litigating the program.
"But guess whose voice has been missing in this debate? Parents," Allison said.
He said the "One of 4,500" campaign will allow viewers to hear directly from the parents who stand to benefit from the program.
The two parents who have intervened in the lawsuit — Cynthia Perry of Wake Forest and Gennell Curry of Creedmoor — are among the parents who will tell their stories on the videos, Allison said.
Allison said that while the sheer number of parents who signed up for the program makes a powerful statement, so do the stories from individuals who hope to benefit from the scholarships.