Allison: The Opportunity Scholarship Act is accountable and transparent

May. 23, 2013 @ 01:13 PM

When it comes to who should be the ultimate decision maker and most accountable for a child’s education, the answer is not only obvious, but has been reaffirmed year after year: a strong majority of voters believe parents should ultimately have the decision making power regarding how to best educate a child, according to a recent Survey USA poll. That’s accountability at its best.

Unfortunately, not every parent can access the school that may work best for their child. For example, wealthy parents exercise their ability to choose by moving to an area with good traditional public schools or paying for private school. Interestingly, no one seems to question the wealthy parent’s judgment in sending their child to a private school or highly scrutinizes the quality of that private school. But when legislation is crafted to assist low-income and working-class families with similar options, public education is suddenly on the brink of disaster!

Poor parents should not be subjected to this double standard. We should not assume that one’s intelligence is proportionate to the size of their bank account, nor should we project this idea that poor parents don’t have good common sense, as they, too, know what type of education is best for their child.

And it is this perspective which makes House Bill 944 (Opportunity Scholarship Act) a very liberating idea. This measure helps poor parents access the best school for their child through an accountable and transparent program. House Bill 944 allows children from low-income and working-class families to receive scholarship grants of up to $4,200 per year to attend private schools that could meet their educational needs. Understandably, real liberation is not absent of calculation, contemplation and solid evaluation.

It is this reason that I salute the measure’s primary sponsors. This bipartisan group of leaders have taken herculean steps to guarantee this bill has strong academic and financial accountability standards including: each year, a random sample of applications will undergo financial audits, ensuring only low-income and working-class children receive scholarship grants; an audit will be conducted at a designated financial threshold to ensure schools are properly utilizing scholarship funds; participating schools are required to provide parents with an annual written explanation of their child’s academic progress, including scores on standardized achievement tests; participating schools with more than 25 scholarship students will have their aggregate test scores reported to the public; and an annual program report, which includes a learning gains comparison between scholarship students and similar public school students, must be made to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee and the Department of Public Instruction.

These lawmakers have worked to ensure this measure does not hogtie our nonpublic schools, but acknowledges that they must be held accountable to taxpayers and families.

Moreover, House Bill 944 is not a “bait-and-switch” measure that starts off benefiting poor children and then expands to those who can already afford private school tuition. The program’s initial qualifying income level is up to 100 percent of free and reduced lunch and will not go beyond 133 percent of that amount. In addition, half of the scholarship funds will always be earmarked for students within 100 percent of free and reduced lunch – ensuring that the most underserved children will have access to a scholarship.

If we want to give our underserved students quality opportunities for academic success, it is only right to make sure these programs are accountable and transparent to parents and taxpayers. House Bill 944 provides low-income and working-class parents an option to help them find a quality educational environment that can best meet their child’s academic needs and also empowers them to be the ultimate accountability authority when it comes to their child’s education.

 

Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina - www.pefnc.org.