Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, has been appointed as chair of the North Carolina House Education Appropriations Committee for the short session, gaveling in later this week. Tasked with setting appropriations for education, the Committee oversees the largest portion of the state budget. She will replace former committee chair Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, who resigned from the General Assembly in early April.

Cotham made waves in North Carolina politics when she switched party affiliation to join the Republican majority in April, 2023. She is a former teacher and assistant principal of East Mecklenburg and Independence High Schools and Northeast Middle School. She was named a 2023 ‘Charter Champion’ by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and played a pivotal role in extending school choice to more families in North Carolina through expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“Throughout her distinguished career, Rep. Cotham has demonstrated a profound understanding of the importance of quality education and its impact on the future of our communities,” said Speaker of the North Carolina House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, in a statement announcing Cotham’s appointment. “Furthermore, she has championed school choice as the sponsor of House Bill 823, “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future,” which expanded the Opportunity Scholarship Program to all North Carolina students.”

Cotham’s party switch in the spring of last year sent shockwaves through the political world in the Tar Heel State, even reverberating at a national level. “The modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me and other across the state,” Cotham said at a press conference announcing the party affiliation switch.

Importantly, the move gave Republicans a “veto-proof” super-majority in the North Carolina House, complementing the super-majority in the North Carolina Senate and ensuring Republican legislative priorities were no longer at the mercy of Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto pen.

The announcement comes as lawmakers return to Raleigh this week to kick off the short session at the General Assembly, in which legislative efforts are largely focused on modifications to the biennial state budget passed the prior year. That budget included the largest ever expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, removing income restrictions and thereby making every student eligible to receive the school choice vouchers.

As Cotham and her fellow lawmakers return this year, however, they face the reality that not enough funds were set aside for the program — the first tranche of funds were quickly exhausted as demand for school choice skyrocketed among North Carolina families. As the money ran out, thousands of applicants were left hanging despite the promise of universal school choice.

“When lawmakers lifted the cap on eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship it gave new hope to millions of families across North Carolina,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “The 72,000 new applicants for the program attests to this fact. If lawmakers approve a universal program, it must be their intent to fund it. To do otherwise wouldn’t make a lot of sense and risk making thousands of families angry and disappointed — in an election year.”

As incoming chair of the House Education Appropriations Committee, Cotham will play a pivotal role in filling this funding gap as Republicans continue to promote school choice policy despite opposition from Cooper and other public-school-only activists.