Advocates make calls urging parents to sign up for school vouchers
Posted August 18, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Parents around the state have been getting phone calls this month urging them to sign up for the $4,200-per-year Opportunity Scholarship program from the group that led the charge for the publicly funded school vouchers.
"We wanted to make sure families were aware," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
PEFNC's School Choice North Carolina project has been making the calls, as well as mailing postcards and airing radio ads.
Under the program, taxpayer money will subsidize the cost of private school tuition for students who meet income and other guidelines.
Allison said that many parents were discouraged from applying or unsure about the program's status after years of legal wrangling. The state Supreme Court ruled last month that the program was constitutional. That cleared the way permanently for families that have applied to use more than $10 million in scholarship funds.
For most students, the North Carolina school year is about to begin. But Allison said that some parents may want to take advantage of the scholarships at the last minute now that the court has ruled.
Any who do sign up will likely face a waiting list. Data from the North Carolina State Educational Assistance Authority show there are already 2,586 scholarships for the coming school year funded, soaking up most of the $10 million. Roughly 2,000 more students are already on the waiting list, according to the authority.
Budgets drafted earlier in the year by the House and the Senate would increase funding for the program during the upcoming fiscal year. However, lawmakers have not concluded their final 2015-16 budget, so it's unclear what increase might be, if any, in the final spending plan.
Public school advocates have long been wary of the scholarship program, saying that vouchers would drain funding from public schools.
"The interest seems to me to be drive up the waiting list so they can come back with more funding next year," said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Ellis said that at least one of his association's members had been called by Parents for Educational Freedom.
"When she told the caller she was a teacher, they hung up," Ellis said.
Allison said creating demand was "the least of our concern." Rather, he said, his group wanted to make sure those who meet the income eligibility requirements know about the program.
"We purchased that list," Allison said. "What we looked at was those areas where we have schools and based upon the income eligibility threshold."
A family of four can qualify for at least a partial scholarship if their income is up to $59,667 this coming year.