The Opportunity Scholarship Program and it’s Anti-Student Enemies

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 10:10 AM

By Mario J. Lomuscio

For as many as fifteen thousand low income students in the state of North Carolina, the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) serves a critical role in providing new education opportunities and eliminating disparities in education outcomes between wealthy and lower-income families. Yet, this vital program is under constant assault from organizations such as the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the National Education Association (NEA), who prioritize their own special interests over the welfare of our students.

Last week the President of the NCAE, Tamika Walker Kelly, was one of seven parents who filed a legal complaint challenging the constitutionality of the OSP for alleged discrimination. The embattled OSP has already survived one legal challenge back in 2014, but with a much different makeup of the state Supreme Court. Its clear that last weeks frivolous and bigoted legal challenge represents little more than an anti-Christian redo of 2014.

Legal challenges against similar programs in other states have already been shot down by the US Supreme Court on three separate occasions, leaving plenty of legal precedence in support of North Carolina’s program. This absurd challenge completely fails to recognize the stark reality of legal precedence while simultaneously making no attempt to hide it’s glaring anti-Christian bias, nor it’s anti-student sentiment.

The complaint alleges three main challenges. We will show that all three are completely baseless and the examples given within the lawsuit to back these frivolous claims, single out Christian Schools specifically in a blatant attempt to discriminate against them. 

Let’s start with the first complaint which reads:

“The Program sends millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools without imposing any meaningful educational requirements...”

This statement is completely false. First, the program doesn’t indiscriminately direct taxpayer money to “private schools”. It specifically offers a scholarship to the “student”. This is a key distinction with profound legal implications as we shall see. A simple look at the wording of HB 944 - (2013 Opportunity Scholarship Program) will show that no specific private school is mentioned at all. See § 115C-562.2 which reads as follows:

“Scholarship grants.”
“(a) ...Scholarship grants shall be awarded to eligible STUDENTS in the order in which the applications are received…

”Second, there is an extensive list of “meaningful education requirements” detailed in the bill. The state requires that schools must:

●Not discriminate with respect to the categories listed in 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, as that statute read on January 1, 2014

●Comply with health and safety requirements

●Be accredited by the state board of education, a national or regional accrediting agency or an active member of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, or receive no funding from state government

●Provide the state with documentation for tuition and fees charged

●Conduct criminal background check on staff member with highest decision-making authority

●Provide parents with an annual written explanation of the student’s progress, including scores on standardized achievement tests

●Annually administer a nationally standardized test to voucher students and provide the test results to the state

●Provide graduation rates of voucher students to the state

●Contract with a certified public accountant to perform a financial review for schools that accept students who receive more than $300,000 in voucher grants

The first claim has absolutely no merit.

The second point of the complaint alleges that:

“The Program as implemented funds discrimination on the basis of religion. Families’ ability to participate in the Program is limited by their religious beliefs and their willingness to cede control of their faith to a religious school.”

This too is completely false. As noted earlier, the program funds “students” and scholarships are awarded to students according to a clearly defined criteria of eligibility. Religion is not mentioned at all in the program’s definition for student eligibility. (See §115C-562.2. Definitions.) The fact that scholarships are conferred to the student, not the school, means that the student and parent are free to choose from a wide variety of sectarian, Christian, Jewish, or even Muslim private schools, rendering the charge of State sanctioned discrimination completely erroneous.

Such was the finding of the landmark Supreme Court decision: Mueller Vs Allen (1983). The decision was the result of a similar legal challenge of discrimination against a Minnesota School Choice program which allowed a tax deduction for private schools. Justice William Rehnquist found in his majority opinion that the benefit was religiously neutral because the deduction applied equally to sectarian and nonsectarian tuition and that the choice of religious or nonreligious instruction was made by individual parents, not the state. Also, aid was given to parents, not schools.

Finally, the third challenge states that:

“The Program as implemented funds schools that discriminate against students and parents based on who they love or the gender they know themselves to be, and against those with religious beliefs that do not condemn homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender non-conformity.”

Again this is completely false. 

We’ve already established that the program funds students, not schools; and that because a wide variety of religious and non-religious options are available, there is no discrimination whatsoever.

What I find particularly offensive about this specific complaint is that the plaintiffs take up five pages of type singling out eight separate Christian private schools alone, for holding to a traditional definition of marriage, as well as holding to biblical teachings on homosexuality in accordance with the Christian faith. There is not a single mention of the multiple Jewish or Muslim private schools that participate in the program, who hold to very similar, if not the exact same beliefs as Christians on these matters. This clearly demonstrates to me that this complaint has little to do with a concern for discrimination, and more to do with contempt for the Christian Faith.

What’s notably absent from this legal challenge is the impact the Opportunity Scholarship Program is having on the children who participate. In 2018 researchers at NC State University released an impact analysis which found “large positive impacts associated with voucher usage in North Carolina.”

“It may be the case that the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program truly has a positive impact on student achievement, perhaps because it reaches highly economically-disadvantaged students who have few school choice options in the absence of the program and perhaps the highest potential for academic growth, as a result.”

These children so very often come from humble and difficult circumstances and are simply looking for the quality education they so rightly deserve. North Carolina has a constitutional obligation to fund the delivery of a sound basic education to our children. Families with limited financial resources need the expanded educational opportunities provided by the Opportunity Scholarship Program, to ensure that our constitutional obligation is fulfilled. A solid educational foundation can help reduce the socioeconomic achievement gap and give our children the fighting chance that the NCAE is so desperately trying to strip from them.

Make no mistake: If this detestable challenge is successful in court, it is the NCAE and their special interests that will benefit, and our children that suffer as the consequence.