Policy Position

School Choice

in Education

Introduction

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. Ideally, there would be two ways to assess whether a school is satisfying that right.

On the one hand, parents may rely on standardized testing and other metrics to gauge the quality of their 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.

Key Facts

  • Between 2007-08 and 2016-17 there was a 79 percent increase in the number of homeschool students. During the 2016-17 school year, an estimated 127,847 students were taught in 80,973 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 2007-08 and 2016-17, there was a 3 percent increase in the number of private school students. Private school enrollment dropped during the Great Recession and only recently began to rebound.  In 2016-17, 100,585 students enrolled in 752 private schools.
  • The N.C. General Assembly passed two private school voucher programs in 2013. The first was a $4,200-per-year Opportunity Scholarship for public school children in low-income households.  The second was a $6,000-per-year (since increased to $8,000) Disability Grant Program for public school children with a documented disability.
  • Over 7,000 low-income children received an Opportunity Scholarship during the 2017-18 school year, which is over five times the number of students who received a scholarship during the program’s first year of operation.
  • Over 1,125 students received a voucher through the Disability Grant Program in 2017-18.
  • Lawmakers continue to increase state support for the Opportunity Scholarship and Disability Grant programs. In 2016, legislators created an Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve, which will increase funding for the program by $10 million per year for the next 10 years. If scheduled increases are maintained in subsequent budgets, the program will have a $144.8 million budget in 2027-28.
  • In 2016, the General Assembly approved a $9,000 education savings account (ESA) program. 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.

Recommendations

  1. The state should continue to increase funding for existing voucher programs to accommodate all eligible applicants. Every year, thousands of low-income and special-needs students remain on wait lists due to legislatively imposed funding caps. The increasing popularity of both programs suggests that, at their current level, the supply of scholarships will fail to meet annual demand.
  2. Increase the number of students that are eligible to receive state-funded education savings accounts (ESAs) and allow unspent funds to be deposited into a college savings account. North Carolina should expand ESA eligibility to low- and middle-income students and allow them to deposit unspent funds into a 529 savings account to offset the cost of postsecondary education and training.
  3. 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.

Data

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