North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared this week "North Carolina School Choice Week" for the first time since he took office in 2017. National School Choice Week began in 2011 and is marked each year by advocates for families having more options for their kids' K-12 education.
"The NC Association of Charter Schools requested this proclamation and we honored that request," Jordan Monaghan, a spokesman for Cooper's office, tells Reason. "Over the past two years, educators at all levels have responded to unprecedented challenges with grace, flexibility and determination."
The proclamation has garnered mixed reactions from school choice advocates, given Cooper's past rhetoric and actions regarding school choice in North Carolina. He has fought against the expansion of charter school enrollment in the state and opposed efforts to expand the state-funded Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides low-income students with vouchers of up to $4,200 to attend a select number of private schools.
In April 2021, Cooper and North Carolina Democrats opposed House Bill (H.B.) 32, which would have increased funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program. H.B. 32 would remove the $4,200 cap and instead tie scholarship amounts to the state's per-pupil funding amount. When the state increases funding for public school students, funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program would also increase.
"I think [private school vouchers siphon] money away from our public schools. We only have so much to invest," Cooper said in a 2020 interview with the Public School Forum of North Carolina. "I know this is something that has been a real project of Republican leadership. I felt better just eliminating the funding."
"This year (2021-22 school year) there were 16,516 new applications for the opportunity scholarship program," Brian Jodice, executive vice president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, tells Reason. That "ultimately ended up in 6,500 new scholarships." Jodice explains, "That means some were not eligible for the scholarship (based on whatever criteria for the scholarship they didn't meet)."
In 2021, Cooper vetoed H.B. 729, which would have made it easier for charter schools to directly hire teachers on a special type of permit, rather than having to go through their local school boards. The bill would have also made North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, a Republican, a voting member on the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board.
Now that Cooper has offered talk, school choice advocates in North Carolina want more action.
"The proclamation is a welcome addition," Jodice says, "but it is counter to his priorities in the past."
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