Judge suspends opportunity scholarship program

Ten million dollars from the pockets of taxpayers to help send underprivileged students to private institutions.

While it may sound rosy on the surface, further investigation reveals a host of problems with the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

According to NC Policy Watch, the Opportunity Scholarship Program would offer low-income families $4,200 in vouchers to send their child to a state-recognized private school. The program aimed to give vouchers to about 2,400 applicants, costing the state an estimated $10 million.

However, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued an injunction against the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, suspending its activities indefinitely.

The largest issue with the program is that it violates the separation of church and state. Recipients of the vouchers can send their student to any private K–12 institution in the state, including religiously affiliated schools.

“We are not a church school for those in cults, i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Christian Science, Unification Church, Zen Buddhism, Unitarianism and United Pentecostal,” reads the Statement of Doctrinal Agreement of Raleigh Christian Academy. “Our high school seeks to give a Christ-centered education to those who believe as we do in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.”

All applicants must sign the agreement.

Religious institutions, such as Raleigh Christian Academy, make up a majority of the schools eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

According to The Charlotte Observer, the Greensboro Islamic Academy was selected in 158 applications, Victory Christian Center School in Charlotte was selected in 87 applications and Al-Iman School in Raleigh was chosen in 77 applications.

“I have nothing against private, religiously affiliated schools,” said Interim Chair of Religious Studies and Director of the Friends Center Max Carter via email. “But funding them with public tax dollars calls into question the separation clause and needs to be given very careful scrutiny.”

Unfortunately, it’s not just the separation of church and state at stake here.

Should a student be found in violation of the aforementioned religious agreements, they could face suspension or expulsion from their school.

Also, many schools such as the Greensboro Islamic Academy state in their application that “After accepting a child, if it is determined that he or she has emotional or behavioral problems, and/or severe learning disabilities, the child may be asked to leave … as necessary programs are not available to meet the needs of these children.”

“If a student stays until November and is expelled, who will be responsible for picking up the pieces?” said Burton Craige, an attorney for taxpayers opposed to the program, according to The Charlotte Observer.

According to Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, children who are expelled or otherwise removed from their institution lose any voucher benefits they had already used and are given the option of using their remaining funds at another private institution or returning to a public school.

While students are given the option of using their remaining voucher funds at another private institution, the majority of these institutions do not offer support for individuals with emotional and behavioral difficulties, leaving the students who need additional support with nowhere to turn.

Undoubtedly, the N.C. educational system needs work. However, diverting additional funding away from public schools to benefit 2,400 lucky, struggling students while blatantly violating our separation of church and state is not my idea of improvement.