In North Carolina, public education is a core fiscal responsibility of state and local government. In the words of the N.C. Supreme Court, the state constitution recognizes the right to a “sound, basic education” for each child.
There are two ways to assess whether a school is satisfying that constitutional right.
On one hand, parents must rely on standardized testing and other metrics to gauge the quality of their children’s assigned schools. Unfortunately, if those schools produce disappointing results or impose direct physical or psychological harm on their children, only a fortunate few have the option of relocating their children to a better district, public charter school, private school, or home school.
On the other hand, the parental choice model makes schools directly accountable to parents. Parents are given the financial means and unrestricted opportunity to move their children and tuition dollars to competing educational institutions.
Therein lies one of the major advantages of school choice – equity. No longer does family income or ZIP code dictate a family’s access to a better school, as it does in most communities today.
In the end, education need not and should not be delivered by government monopolies. A diverse array of prekindergarten, primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools benefit both those who utilize educational options and those who do not. No system for delivering goods and services functions well without providing a means for consumers to make their desires known and express their levels of satisfaction.
- Between 2006-07 and 2015-16 there was a 72 percent increase in the number of homeschool students. During the 2015-16 school year, an estimated 118,268 students were taught in 74,653 home schools.
- In 2013, the General Assembly changed the state’s homeschool statute to affirm that homeschool parents determine the scope and sequence of academic instruction and permit them to incorporate additional sources of instruction, including online and cooperative schools.
- Between 2006-07 and 2015-16, there was a 0.06 percent increase in the number of private school students. Private school enrollment dropped during the Great Recession and only recently began to rebound. In 2015-16, over 97,700 students enrolled in 742 private schools.
- The N.C. General Assembly passed two private school voucher programs in 2013. The budget included a $4,200-per-year Opportunity Scholarship for public school children in low-income households. In addition, legislators approved a $6,000-per-year Disability Grant Program for public school children with a documented disability. Disability Grant Program scholarships have since increased to $8,000 per year.
- Over 6,000 low-income children will receive an Opportunity Scholarship for the 2016-17 school year, which is well over five times the number of students who received a scholarship during the program’s first year of operation.
- Over 800 students received a voucher through the Disability Grant Program in 2016.
- Lawmakers continue to increase state support for the Opportunity Scholarship and Disability Grant programs. In 2016, legislators increased Disability Grant scholarship funding by 137 percent. The $5.8 million increase boosted the annual Disability Grant budget to $10 million. Legislators also created an Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve, which will increase funding for the program by $10 million per year for the next 10 years. The Opportunity Scholarship Program will receive $34.8 million in 2016. If scheduled increases are maintained in subsequent budgets, the program will have a $144.8 million budget in 2027-28.
- The state should continue to increase funding for existing voucher programs to accommodate all eligible applicants. In 2016, there were over 2,100 low-income students on a wait list for an Opportunity Scholarship. Over 300 special-needs students were on the wait list for a Disability Grant Program scholarship. The increasing popularity of both programs suggests that, at their current level, the supply of scholarships will fail to meet annual demand.
- All low-income students should receive state-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESA)to receive educational services or attend the school(s) of their choice. An ESA would give parents the maximum control of scholarship funds by allowing them to direct state-provided dollars to one or more approved schools, educational service providers, or vendors providing instructional materials and technology. Ideally, state law would allow unspent funds to be deposited into a college savings account, such as a 529 Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
- School districts should make greater use of open enrollment and magnet schools, allowing parents to send their children to the public schools that best meet their needs. District leaders should employ choice and competition to improve academic performance within the district system.