It was no shock when the Republican-dominated state House voted down a proposal Thursday to pull the $10 million budgeted for Opportunity Scholarships and shift it to classroom teachers in public schools. After all, this was the group that voted last year to offer vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.
But the most intense support of the scholarships came from two African American Democrats who co-sponsored the bill last year. Reps. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, and Edward Hanes Jr., D-Forsyth, argued that colleagues opposing the vouchers are denying children an alternative to failing schools.
"That's not because we have bad teachers and it's not because we have bad principals," he said. "It's because we have a bad system."
The amendment to shift voucher money to classroom teachers came from Ken Goodman, a Rockingham Democrat. He said the state constitution is explicit about the obligation to provide a free public education, and channeling public money to private schools does not meet that definition.
Brandon and Hanes accused Opportunity Scholarship opponents of hypocrisy if they voted for vouchers to send students with disabilities to private schools. That program, which offers up to $6,000 a year for tuition and special services, passed in 2013 with less controversy than the income-based scholarships. Brandon said children in his district "may not roll up in wheelchairs, but their needs are indeed special."
"If students are forced to go to schools that are 99 percent free and reduced lunch, I don't know how free that is. I think those students are being taxed," Hanes said. "There's nothing free when 99 percent of those students look like me."
The amendment failed 43-71.