RALEIGH, N.C. – As a single mother, there is a lot that Bella Santiago has to keep track of for her son, Sebastian.
His education is one of those top priorities.
Her son is in the second grade. He was one of the many children who started school during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he struggled at times.
Bella Santiago said she's had to put a lot of thought into which school is right for her son, a lot more than she knew would be needed.
After two years at a public charter school, she found out about the Opportunity Scholarship program, designed to help families afford private schools they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
“I think that it meant so much to me just because it gave me the opportunity to decide for myself and decide really, you know what, I like really put a lot of thought into what I wanted for my son,” she said.
This is her son’s first year at his new school, thanks to the program, and Santiago said it’s made a huge difference.
“He has been able to improve his English, his reading, you know, his math. And academically, it has been great for him. I feel very, very secure."
If Republicans in the State Legislature have their way, more parents like Santiago will have a choice of where their child goes to school.
Every Republican in the State House and the State Senate has signed on to legislation expanding the program.
If it becomes law, every student in the state could get a scholarship, no matter their household income or educational background.
Republican Senator Michael Lee said they are choosing to invest in the students, not the systems.
In a press conference earlier in the week, Republican lawmakers explained the legislation, and said that parents know what is best for their children. They added that every parent deserves to have the choice of where their child should go to school.
Opponents to the legislation say putting this money that is currently used by public schools into private schools would hurt the public school system.
They have also raised concerns about money going to private religious schools that could turn away students, based on sexual orientation.
The North Carolina Association of Educators put out a statement, saying in part: “The proposal to remove restrictions for who can access private school vouchers will increase public funds going into the hands of schools that don’t have to adhere to the same standards set by the N.C. Department of Instruction and can select the students they want to enroll.”
Santiago wanted a Christian school for her son, somewhere safe, with smaller class sizes where her son could get more attention. She says that’s exactly what she was able to get. She believes expanding the program would be a game changer for families, just like it was for her.
“It's been a great experience. I think that, you know, the school that I chose has fulfilled every single thing that I needed, or that I was expecting, for my son.”