Raleigh, N.C. — Hundreds of families whose children have been awarded vouchers to attend private schools showed up at the Legislative Building on Tuesday to thank lawmakers for the Opportunity Scholarship program and to demonstrate the level of interest in keeping the program going.
The North Carolina Supreme Court is currently determining the legality of the program after a judge last year declared it an unconstitutional shift of state money from public schools. A ruling is expected in the next couple of months.
The program, which lawmakers passed in 2013, allows low-income families to apply for annual grants of up to $4,200 per child to help defray tuition costs at private or religious schools. More than 5,500 families applied for the roughly 2,400 vouchers available for the 2014-15 school year, and about 5,000 have applied for the 2015-16 school year.
Lawmakers set aside $10 million for the first year of the program, and rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said Tuesday that they hope to include enough money in the state budget to accommodate all applicants.
"I'm just really, really, really grateful for the Opportunity Scholarship program. Please don't close it or shut it down," said Chase MacLean, wiping away tears after recounting for a room filled with strangers how she was bullied at public school. "Without it, I couldn't be able to go to the school I'm in now, and I don't fell like going through what I've been through again."
Parents also told stories of how their children were struggling in public school, either because they were bullied or because they weren't challenged by the curriculum, and needed the option of private school that Opportunity Scholarships provided.
"This program has been a second chance for us," said Lisa Smothers, a mother of four from Wadesboro. "Nothing brings me more joy than seeing the smiles on my children's faces again. Speaker Moore and Senate President Berger, thank you for helping get the smiles back on my children's faces."
House Speaker Tim Moore said ensuring children have a quality education is a top priority for him and other parents.
"What we want in North Carolina are the best schools, the best public schools and the option for those who choose to go another route," said Moore, R-Cleveland. "It's good to see that this scholarship program has worked."
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger likewise said parents only want opportunities for their children to succeed.
"This program has provided children across this state with an opportunity that they would not have had were it not for this program," said Berger, R-Rockingham.