• Opponents of school choice claim that private schools are unaccountable because they don’t have to satisfy every testing mandate required of traditional public schools, yet private schools are subject to the highest standard of accountability: parents
  • Critics claim that school choice would drain money from struggling public schools, but state spending on public education continues to increase, and schools would only lose students if they aren’t meeting their needs
  • Opponents claim that school choice harms academic achievement, yet most studies have found that school choice programs improve the academic performance not just of students who participate in the programs but also of those who remain in public schools

Universal school choice is one step closer to becoming reality in North Carolina, despite several common myths being repeated by critics and the media.

On May 17, the North Carolina House approved a bill entitled “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future.” This proposal would “expand eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships to all families in a tiered system based on income. Lower income households would be [given] first priority, while wealthier families would have access if sufficient funds remain available.”

The Senate Education Committee sanctioned a similar bill, Senate Bill 406, on April 26, and some provisions of that bill were also incorporated into the chamber’s biennial budget proposal.

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which gives the families of eligible students vouchers to use toward tuition and fees at private schools, remains popular. Polling results released by the John Locke Foundation in January 2023 revealed that 67% of respondents support the program.

Yet despite the OSP’s appeal, opponents of school choice continue to circulate myths to hinder similar opportunities from being extended to all K-12 students. News outlets and politicians have recently recycled several of these common excuses.

Let’s examine a few.

Myth 1: School choice would funnel money to unaccountable private schools

In an apocalyptic address delivered on May 22, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper alleged that legislation to universalize the OSP would “pour your tax money into private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”

By accountability, opponents of school choice usually mean that private schools aren’t subject to all the testing requirements with which public schools must comply. This fact, they claim, makes private schools “unaccountable.” Conspicuously absent from the conversation is any discussion of the fact that few, if any, traditional public schools are held accountable for poor standardized test results — even when, despite increased spending, large numbers of students can’t read or do math at grade level.

True accountability begins with parents, who love their children the most and are best positioned to know each child’s unique needs.

For example, end-of-grade reading scores for 2021-2022 indicated that only about half of North Carolina students in grades three through eight were reading at grade level.

Fewer Than Half of North Carolina Public School Students Tested Proficient for Reading in Most Grades in 2021-22

Source: NC DPI, “2021–22 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools” (Sept. 1, 2022)

Indeed, school choice opponents proceed from a flawed conception of what accountability is. Lawmakers continually spend more and more on the public school system, yet test scores remain virtually stagnant or even decline.

True accountability begins with parents, who love their children the most and are best positioned to know each child’s unique needs. Empowering parents to choose the school that works best for their child ensures that schools are responsive to students’ needs. If parents aren’t happy with the education their child is receiving at a private school, they can enroll their child elsewhere. Schools must cater to the needs of students and families or risk losing money.

Myth 2: School choice would drain money from public schools

An opinion piece that originally appeared in The News & Observer on May 8 proclaimed, “The expansion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program would siphon funds from all public schools, but it would be especially hard on rural school systems.” Going on, it stated, “Republicans hope to offset the loss by increasing funding for low-wealth schools, but that funding is uncertain year-to-year while the effects of fewer students will be continuous and growing.”

Regardless of the existence of school choice programs, students leave public schools for many reasons. For instance, they may graduate, move to another neighborhood or state, or become homeschooled. Schools already find ways adjust to these losses, as they do when families choose to participate in North Carolina’s current Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Additionally, although North Carolina has implemented the OSP since 2014, the mass exodus from public schools that school choice opponents predicted hasn’t materialized. In the Tar Heel State, 20,377 students received OSP scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year. For comparison, average daily membership (ADM) in the public school system during the same year was 1,357,681 students (note: ADM for 2022-23 is not yet available).

If the OSP really siphoned money from public schools, one would expect spending on the public school system to decrease. Yet despite the OSP’s existence, spending on public schools has only increased.

Finally, let’s not forget, “the effects of fewer students will be continuous and growing” only if families choose to leave public schools and participate in the OSP. If public schools do their jobs well and serve the needs of students, most families will choose to stay.

Myth 3: School choice harms academic achievement

A recent Economic Policy Institute article stated, “There is an extensive body of research finding that voucher programs do not improve student achievement.” It cited four statewide studies finding that voucher users scored worse than their public-school peers and one study of Milwaukee’s voucher program that found an uptick in performance after voucher students returned to public schools.

Some studies have found that “[v]oucher students tend to experience a small, negative and statistically insignificant effect on reading and math test scores in their first year in a program.” Long-term research, however, shows that these losses reverse after about four years. At that point, voucher users tend to score higher than their public-school peers.

Most studies have found that school choice programs improve participants’ test scores, as shown in the 2022 edition of the EdChoice review of research on private school choice. In fact, 11 of 17 studies examining the test scores of students who participate in school choice programs found positive gains.

Research Findings of Positive vs. Negative Effects of School Choice Programs on Participants’ Test Scores

Source: EdChoice, “EdChoice Study Guide” (2022)

Studies have also shown that the presence of school choice programs correlates to improved academic performance of students who remain in public schools. Twenty-five of 28 studies found that public schools in areas where school choice programs operated experienced improved outcomes. One study found no visible effects, while only two reported declining performance.

Improved Academic Performance of Public Schools in Areas with School Choice Programs

Source: Bedrick & Tarnowski, “Who’s Afraid of School Choice?” (EdChoice, 2021)

In 2020, researchers from North Carolina State University published a study specifically looking at results from the Opportunity Scholarship Program. They reported finding “positive, large, and statistically significant” test score increases among OSP participants.

These studies show that school choice improves academic outcomes for public and private school students alike.


As more and more states work to enact and expand school choice programs, they will encounter myths like these. Policymakers, families, and advocates can take heart, however. The fact is, school choice programs can be confidently implemented for the benefit of all students.