In the midst of a national education crisis, teachers’ unions are attempting to deny thousands of low-income students access to quality education.
On Monday, a group of seven North Carolina parents filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program. One of the plaintiffs, Tamika Walker Kelly, is the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCEA). Kelly and the other parents have the support of both the NCEA and National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ unions in the state and nation, respectively.
The Opportunity Scholarship is a state-provided voucher program for low-income students founded in 2014. Families are eligible for up to $4,200 in tuition assistance to help their children enroll in a non-public school. The program currently serves as many as 15,000 low-income students, almost half of whom are minorities.
NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia said in a statement in support of the lawsuit that private schools “are unaccountable to parents.” Public schools are the only answer to a quality education, she argued, and “North Carolina should do what is best for students and reject vouchers.”
The Opportunity Scholarship was previously challenged in the North Carolina Supreme Court but was ruled constitutional in a 4-3 decision in 2015. But recent judicial elections have changed the balance of the court. Currently pro-union Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans on the state Supreme Court. The lawsuit will likely succeed, ending the scholarship program for needy families.
The filing of this suit neatly coincides with the debate in North Carolina over reopening schools. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has implemented a Plan A, B, and C program for phases of reopening schools. Plan A, which entails full in-person reopening, is currently unavailable to public schools. Plan B implements masks and social distancing policies in the classrooms. O, ver 50 percent of districts have opted for Plan C, a fully online class structure, after aggressive lobbying tactics by NCEA. Teachers have pressured school board members through extensive phone and email campaigns to close schools.
Due to the school closings pushed by teachers’ unions, many families see private schools as their only option for in-person schooling. North Carolina’s private schools have unveiled far more aggressive reopening strategies. Across the state, private schools’ decision to reopen with safety precautions — mirroring Plan B — has resulted in an influx of applications.
Child care also is an issue as low-income families cannot afford to stay home and look after their children. For students who have learning disabilities, troubled family situations, or limited access to technology, remote learning disportionately affects their ability to succeed in the classroom.
Private schools are an increasingly important option for these families, but tuition is of course an issue. Voucher scholarships like the Opportunity Scholarship allow low-income families in North Carolina to afford private schools.
First, teachers’ unions pushed for closing public schools in North Carolina. Nearly 800,000 students will not have access to in-person education because of the NCEA. Now, as parents attempt to ensure their children have access to a quality education amid closings, the NCEA and NEA are trying to strip that option away as well.
Teachers’ unions cannot profess that they are “serious about every student’s future” and in the same breath sue to take away their chance for a good education.
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