Senator Sanders and Governor Cooper want to kill school choice for parents

By Mike Long

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, took time out of his busy schedule to pen an op-ed for The Fayetteville Observer attacking the freedom of North Carolinians to choose the best schools for their children.

In reading Senator Sanders’ piece, it appears that he is in perfect lockstep with our own Governor, Roy Cooper, who has championed the cause of ending school choice in North Carolina, calling the Opportunity Scholarship Program “an expense we should stop.”

Taking away educational choice from low-income families appears to be a policy prescription Senator Sanders and Governor Cooper are prioritizing.

We can only assume that if Senator Sanders were to secure the nomination from his party, then Governor Cooper would support him. And together, they would continue their attacks on school choice, our governor also admitting that he “felt better eliminating the funding” for the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The anti-school choice rhetoric from leaders like Senator Sanders and Governor Cooper seems like an odd choice for their focus, given the popularity of school choice nationwide—including among those in his own party.

For example, a Democrats for Education Reform poll of likely 2020 voters found that 81 percent of Democratic primary voters, and 89 percent of African-American Democratic primary voters, support expanding “access to more choices and options within the public school system, including magnet schools, career academies and public charter schools.”

What’s more, a recent survey by the American Federation for Children (conducted by Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm) yielded similar results: 56 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would less likely to support a presidential candidate who wanted to eliminate all federal funding for charter schools (including 60 percent of Millennials, 62 percent of African-Americans, and 65 percent of Latinos).

Here in North Carolina, a Civitas poll found that 73 percent of Democrats strongly support or somewhat support charter schools (including 82 percent of African-Americans). And 56 percent of Democrats “strongly support” the Opportunity Scholarship Program, enthusiasm that surprisingly outpaces support among Republicans (49 percent) and Independents (48 percent).

Senator Sanders might be aligning himself against the wishes (and best interests) of his base, but that’s hardly his worst offense. In his op-ed, he makes the same tired, elitist argument against educational choice—one deeply rooted in prioritizing a system over the needs of individual students and families. In truth, Senator Sanders is only interested in “a good education for every child” if it happens on his terms.

Interestingly, Senator Sanders wrote this op-ed exclusively for The Fayetteville Observer. Does he know that Cumberland County leads our state in the number of families demanding school choice through North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program? This scholarship provides up to $4,200 a year for low-income families to send their students to the private school of their choice. There are 1,373 students (and their families) in Cumberland County alone on the program.

Put simply, private school choice programs are providing vital support for families of children with special needs, plus lower income families, to send their children to the school of their choice.

Here is a policy prescription that truly works for all North Carolinians: Support access to all options, whether they be traditional public schools, public charters, private schools, or homeschools. Empower all parents—including those of modest means—to make the best decision possible for each child. And prioritize the needs of all students over archaic systems.

That’s the wave of the future, whether Senator Sanders and Governor Cooper recognize it or not.