A billboard campaign in North Carolina is taking aim at Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper after his announcement proposing freezing and eventually ending a scholarship program that has benefited minority students—more than 30% of which are African-American, according to North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.

The billboard says the governor is “failing when it comes to helping minority students” and encourages residents to call Cooper to reverse his decision.

A group called the Job Creators Network launched the campaign on May 15 following Cooper’s recent budget proposal that included eventually eliminating the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships Program, a state voucher system that gives up to $4,200 to children from low-income households to attend a private school of their choice.  

The Job Creators Network is a nonpartisan organization that educates business owners, entrepreneurs, and employees on government policies they deem harmful to “Main Street America.” As a former benefactor of a school voucher program, Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of the group, has been outspoken against Cooper’s decision.

“One of our members who lives in North Carolina made me aware of [Cooper’s decision],” Ortiz said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “And again, because it is the kind of a personal thing with something like this where scholarships afforded me the opportunity to attend great schools, private schools, I decided that our organization should jump into action.”

The network published a May 9 op-ed criticizing Cooper’s stated reason for cutting the program: “We really don’t know what these [private] schools are doing or how they are performing.” The op-ed shot back in response to the alleged lack of accountability by citing survey data showing 97% of scholarship recipients were satisfied with their child’s academic progress.

Enacted in 2013 and launched in 2014, the Opportunity Scholarships Program’s vouchers allow families to use the funds to cover tuition, transportation, supplies, and any additional expenses necessary for private schools that qualify.

In order for students to be eligible, their parents’ income cannot exceed $61,913 for a family of four in 2018-2019, the same guidelines for the federal free and reduced price lunch program.

For 2018-2019, the program funding increased to $54.8 million, with the number of recipients increasing by 83% in only four years, according to the op-ed.

“The governor’s budget proposal cuts the learning options for children in low-income families, as well as students in military families and in foster care,” Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, said in a statement to The Daily Signal, adding:

These are students facing significant challenge—our service members are asked to move frequently, uprooting children from their teachers and friends at school; foster children have instability at home; and low-income families are struggling to make ends meet. State officials should be looking for more ways to help these children succeed in school and in life, not take opportunities away from them.

Public Schools First NC, a statewide nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates “for one unified system of public education that will prepare each child for productive citizenship,” listed financial accountability as one of its concerns about vouchers for private schools.

As voucher programs siphon funding from public schools and divert it to private schools, the group explains on its website, there is a lack of transparency on student performance and the use of public funds for taxpayers.

However, Ortiz points out that the opportunity scholarships are actually saving the state more money than its public schools. According to a 2018 article by North Carolina NBC affiliate WCNC, the state spends around $9,500 per student.

“For every child in the program, you save about half as the school system,” Ortiz said. “It’s a budget saver for the state and it’s an opportunity to advance these kids.”

In addition to the network’s urging residents to call Cooper, a website is also listed on the billboard where residents can access a petition calling for the governor to increase funding of the Opportunity Scholarships Program.

“We’re almost up to 1,000 petition signatures, which, quite frankly, for a local campaign, we’re pretty excited about that,” Ortiz said. “We just want to continue to drive this point home.”

The billboard campaign has three billboards set up throughout the state.

This article has been changed to clarify that $9,500 per student is reflective of state spending. There are also changes to the language about Cooper’s proposal to clarify how he would change the funding to the program. The name of the program has also been corrected to Opportunity Scholarships Program. The source for 30 percent of the students in the program being African-American has also been added.