Opportunity Scholarships are popular and working for thousands, so why does the education establishment stay on the attack?

By Mike Long

We live in an era of deep division and hyper partisanship. To borrow a cliché, it is what it is.

That is why it is so encouraging to see an issue where North Carolinians broadly come together with the same conclusion. Support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program is one of those issues.

Our new poll of 500 likely voters in the General Election found a 62% support level for these scholarships, which allow low- and middle-income families to send their child to an educational choice that’s right for them, in the case of this program that is a private school. This program puts into reality the belief that we should fund students, not systems and bureaucracies. North Carolinians realize this and overwhelmingly support the program.

School choice also polled as very popular in our survey. In response to the question on where parents would want to send their children to school if cost and distance were not factors, 52% chose a non-traditional public school option and 38% chose traditional public school. The breakdown on the school choice options was 22% choosing a religious private school, 10.9% choosing a non-religious private school, 10.5% choosing a charter school, and 8.6% choosing a homeschool.

Even while more and more parents are clamoring for options, the real and substantial progress we are seeing continues to be fought tooth and nail by the education establishment, which wants parents to only have one option—their locally zoned public school. 

For years now, Opportunity Scholarships are in the crosshairs of the N.C. Association of Educators. This self-described teacher’s union filed a lawsuit in 2020 seeking to overturn the program. Our state’s highest court already declared the scholarships constitutional in 2015, but opponents of parental choice are having another go at it.

Crucially, two elections for open seats on the N.C. Supreme Court in 2022 could decide whether scholarships remain or are taken away from thousands of working-class families in our great state. Here again, the public is on the side of school choice. Respondents to our poll opposed the idea of the state’s highest court striking down Opportunity Scholarships by a two-to-one margin.

Here is what parents and voters are telling us: A one-size-fits-all approach to education does not reflect the varied options and demands of our 21st century life. Particularly since the pandemic emerged, our state has experienced a breakout moment for school choice. Our state’s new budget reflects this reality by expanding and improving not only the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but our state’s two school-choice programs designed for students with special needs.

School choice is here to stay. When will the education establishment get it?