Mo Green, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, said at a public schools forum May 7 that he was motivated to run for the office due to concerns about the growth of school choice in North Carolina. But Green’s position appears to be at odds with many of the voters in his own party.

Green said he decided to run shortly after the Republican majority approved an expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the state’s voucher program that helps parents cover the cost of private school tuition. Each voucher is worth between $3,360 and $7,468 a year, with the low-income and working-class households receiving first priority for funds.

“I’m deeply concerned about the dismantling of public education,” Green said at the Public School Forum’s 10th annual Eggs & Issues breakfast.

Source: NC Public Schools Forum

Green is running against Republican Michele Morrow in the race for state superintendent. Green is the former superintendent of Guilford County Schools and is the outgoing executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Reynolds is among the largest funders of left-wing groups in the state, including those that have advocated against the expansion of school-choice options like Opportunity Scholarships.

Green’s stance puts him at odds not only with many Democrats, but also out of step with lower income and minority households.

According to the April Carolina Journal poll of likely NC voters, 55% of Democrats support the Opportunity Scholarship Program while only 31% oppose it. That compares to 65% of Republicans and 61% of Independents who also support the program. Crucially, the highest percentage of voters saying they “strongly support” Opportunity Scholarships comes from Democrats — at 41% compared to 39% for Republicans and 35% for Independents.

The poll also showed that lower income voters and racial minorities are more likely to support the vouchers than higher income, white households. Sixty-six percent of voters with household incomes below $40,000 a year support vouchers compared to 53% of households making six-figures. Meanwhile, 62% of blacks and 81% of Latinos support the program, compared to 58% of whites.

In a statement emailed to Carolina Journal, Green reiterated his concerns about Opportunity Scholarships.

“North Carolina’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher program diverts desperately needed funds from students in our public schools,” he said. “Our state is, sadly, already 48th in the nation in funding for public education and its educators are woefully underpaid, making it extremely challenging for our state to meet its constitutional mandate to provide a system of free public schools where all students can receive a sound, basic education. The current legislative proposal– to spend an additional $463 million taxpayer dollars on more private school vouchers for the wealthiest of North Carolina families– will only make the ability to meet this obligation worse.”

Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget for 2024 freezes funding for Opportunity Scholarships at current levels and gradually phases out the program over time. Democrats in the House and Senate have filed legislation to do the same.

In the statement to CJ, Green said he supported Cooper’s “call to pause taxpayer-funded private school vouchers until we meet the needs of children in public schools and pay our public school educators more.”

The Republican-led General Assembly has other ideas. Last week, the Senate fast-tracked a bill that would clear the current waitlist for the vouchers, estimated to be at 54,800 students.

During debate in a Senate committee, Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover, pointed out that even with the funding increase, Opportunity Scholarships are only 3% of the overall education budget and 4.5% of the K-12 public education budget.

“As an overall percentage of the education budget, it’s incredibly small,” Lee said.

Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, called into question Green’s statement that school choice programs are “dismantling” public education.

“In the last 10 years, per pupil state support for each public school student has increased from $5,400 to $7,600, while total K-12 expenditures have risen from approximately $8,500 to over $12,630 per pupil,” Luebke said. “Last year, public schools spent $17.2 billion, including $10.3 billion in state dollars.”