From Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:
Charlotte mother Khaliah Ellison always dreamed of being able to send her children to a private school. The public schools in her neighborhood have been a challenge, particularly for her middle child, Mekhi.
“Over the past few years he just wasn’t doing that well academically. There were so many students in his classroom,” she said. “He wasn’t getting the attention he needed.”
That all changed when the North Carolina Legislature adopted the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2013. After the program was delayed several times, Ms. Ellison’s dream finally came true this year. She obtained a scholarship for Mekhi to attend a private school this school year.
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Mekhi is now a second grader at Victory Christian Center in Charlotte. He was one of 1,847 students statewide awarded a school voucher to transfer to the school of their choice this fall.
“I thought maybe with a few part-time jobs, I could possibly send him to private school someday in the future,” said the single mother of three. “I knew with prayer it may happen someday, but I never thought it would happen this quick.”
The Opportunity Scholarship Program is now being challenged in court by opponents who want to determine its constitutionality – a decision that will ultimately be decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court. It is similar to several other legal challenges being made to school choice programs enacted in the past few years in Southern States including Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.
These school voucher and tax credit programs are helping children escape schools that don’t work for them.
“I can see a real difference in him at his new school,” Ms. Ellison said of her son. “The number of students in his class is about half and he is getting the attention he needs. You can tell in his demeanor and in his face, he is more confident.”
In North Carolina, the Opportunity Scholarship Program awards as many as 2,400 families vouchers up to 100 percent of the federal Free and Reduced Lunch poverty level to allow their child to transfer to the private school of their choice. The scholarships are worth up to $4,200 and cannot exceed the cost of tuition and fees.
In Mekhi’s case, his mom could not afford tuition for Victory Christian Center but the scholarship covered most of the $5,670 tuition. An outside group offered additional financial aid. All Ms. Ellison has to pay is about $110 a month to help cover tuition and the bus fee for her son.
“As parents, we should have a choice where we send our kids to learn,” Ms. Ellison said. “Each child is different and for some, public school is not good for them. My son’s future was so bleak and now I just feel so blessed.”