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Opportunity Scholarships are a Lifeline to a Better Education – to a Better Life

• ExcelinEd

In December 2013, two lawsuits were filed, one by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the North Carolina Justice Center, and another by the North Carolina School Board Association, to block low-income families from using Opportunity Scholarships. The new voucher program launched for the 2014-15 school year with over 5,500 applications. However, due to two injunctions since the lawsuits were filed, the program ended up with roughly 1,200 students utilizing the much-needed scholarships to attend schools that meet their unique learning needs. The program faces termination pending the outcome of its hearing before the North Carolina Supreme Court on February 17.

This guest post is authored by Lisa Smothers, mother of four North Carolina students using Opportunity Scholarships to attend private school.

We all have bad days, but last January, my family had a particularly tough one. All four of my children came home upset and crying over different things that had happened to them at school.

As a parent, I want my children to develop into strong, compassionate and intelligent adults.

After being in our local public school system for eight full years, I knew our school was not helping achieve that goal. Our school district was letting my children down, but I wasn’t going to do the same.

So that day in January, I promised my children – 13-year-old Aliah, 12-year-old Garet, nine-year-old Megan and seven-year-old Sadie – that they wouldn’t have to return to our failing public school system. I promised that we would find something better, where each of them could excel.

image for blogBut when I started the search for alternative public schools, there were none. My kids were trapped in a failing school system. Aside from buying my way out, there was nothing I could do.

That was when I heard about North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship, a voucher that allows families like mine to afford a better choice for their students. This school year, we were able to use Opportunity Scholarships to send my four children to a private school. This change – this opportunity – has improved the futures of my children.

For eight years, Eleya, my oldest, struggled and failed in school. The teachers at her new school are fantastic and dedicated. They aren’t letting her fail. She is excited about school, like she never was before. And I am excited for her and her future.

This scholarship has been such a blessing for my children. If we are able to continue using the program, I know my children will graduate from high school better prepared for the challenges and opportunities they will face. But if they are forced to return to our local schools, I’m not so confident about their futures.

It’s a terrible reality to send your kids to a school that fails to meet their needs day after day. That will be my reality once again if the Opportunity Scholarships are revoked – like some in our state are pushing for.

I can hardly believe that anyone would look at any child and deny them the chance to have a better future by forcing them to return to a failing school. But that’s exactly what those who are challenging the Opportunity Scholarship Program are doing.

My children have the potential to become productive, educated adults. And that journey begins today, with a strong educational foundation. Neither our world nor our education systems are perfect, and parents need alternatives. We need a choice to find the right school for our children.

Wealthy families can afford to pay for private school tuition or move to a neighborhood with a better school. But not everyone has that luxury.

For nearly two thousand North Carolina students, Opportunity Scholarships are a lifeline to a better education – to a better life. The families enrolled in this program are using it because they desperately need a choice. Please don’t take that away.

Lisa Smothers is the mother of four children in Wadesboro, North Carolina. She uses Opportunity Scholarships to send her children to private school.

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