by Anna Manning
John Locke Foundation’s Dr. Terry Stoops, VP of Research and Director of Education Studies, writes on the competition North Carolina public schools are facing for Real Clear Education.
North Carolina teachers attracted national attention last May when they joined West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado as a teacher walkout state. Their one-day, union-inspired protest at the North Carolina State Capitol was surprising for a right-to-work state that had recently granted teachers a 6.5 percent average salary increase, their fifth raise in a row. The protest and its aftermath have secured the state’s battleground status, not just in presidential politics, but in education politics as well.
This year, one of the main goals of protesters will be to impede the expansion of popular school choice programs that have empowered parents but stifled district school enrollment growth and the funding that comes with it. Data show that an unprecedented number of North Carolina parents are voting with their feet.
The Raleigh News & Observer recently reported that Wake County Schools, the largest school district in North Carolina and 16th largest in the nation, had expected as many as 1,900 new students to enroll this school year. For a district that had enjoyed years of robust enrollment growth, it was a reasonable assumption.
When the doors opened last fall, a quite different reality emerged: the net increase was a mere 42 students.
The decrease in enrollment in N.C. public schools is the gain of homeschools, charter schools, and public schools.
Teacher unions and public school advocacy organizations in North Carolina are ready to take drastic measures, and their most recent idea seeks nothing less than a hostile takeover of charter schools. Natalie Beyer, a Durham County school board member and board member of Public Schools First NC, told a reporter she would “like to at least have the conversation of charter schools being under school district control instead of as they now are operating independently.” If you can’t beat them, try to destroy them.
As part of this effort, public school advocacy organizations and their union supporters will likely initiate an aggressive campaign to weaken their competition through the media, legislature, and the courts. When the N.C. General Assembly reconvenes later this month, lawmakers in the Democratic minority will propose measures toenlarge government oversight of charters and any school that receives funding from one of North Carolina’s three private-school choice programs. In addition, anti-choice interests will look to the courts to intervene, perhaps by using the state’s longstanding adequacy lawsuit as the basis for legal action.
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