Nearly 300 children, parents, and education professionals from across North Carolina descended on the Legislative Building today to show their gratitude to state legislators for supporting the Opportunity Scholarship program — which they say has improved their lives — and to urge the officials to continue backing the program. Representative Bell was an original co-sponsor of the program in 2013.
Opportunity Scholarships, sometimes referred to as vouchers, provide up to $4,200 annually so that low-income children can attend a non-public school. Of the families who applied last year, nearly 75% were minority.
Children and their families, hosted by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), visited individual legislators’ offices and held a joint press conference with Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. To watch video of today’s press conference — which is at times extremely moving — please visit WRAL’s website.
Since the Opportunity Scholarship Program began in North Carolina in 2014, they have proven highly popular with North Carolina’s families. Demand for the program has consistently been far greater than the number of scholarships available; more than 5,500 applied for the scholarships last year for just 2,400 spots and more than 5,000 families have applied since February for the 2015-16 school year. Nearly half of North Carolina’s private schools (327) have registered to accept Opportunity Scholarship students at their schools.
PEFNC hosted the event because the organization believes it is important for the public to hear firsthand stories about the program’s early successes from the students who are benefiting from the scholarship program. PEFNC President Darrell Allison believes the student and parent stories offer the best evidence of the program’s effectiveness as well as highlights why the program must be allowed to continue.
“Today’s gathering allowed the public and especially our policymakers the opportunity to hear and observe how a policy that is now law is making positive impact in the lives of those they intended to help,” said Allison. “There is no denying the demand for this program when you examine the numbers last year compared to the staggering numbers that continue to roll in daily; however, today, members of the North Carolina General Assembly heard directly from the beneficiaries on why such a program is so popular and important to their families.”
“There are thousands more families in our state who are desperate for scholarships as evidenced by the rising application numbers, but we have a few hundred families here today to express their sincere thanks and gratitude.”
For more on the press conference, be sure to read this informative piece by Matt Caulder on NC Capitol Connection’s website.
PEFNC is a statewide organization that supports greater educational options through parental school choice, such as the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, passed in July 2013, creates scholarships of up to $4,200 for low-income and working-class families to attend a private school. To be eligible for a scholarship for the 2015-2016 school year, household income must not exceed 133% of the amount to qualify for free and reduced price lunch (about $59,668 for a family of 4).