John Locke Update / Research Brief

A Letter to School Choice Families

posted on in Education, Education (PreK-12)
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Dear School Choice Families,

Let’s talk.

This was National School Choice Week, and I am thrilled that your children attend a school of choice.

You may be among those who have sacrificed your time and money to ensure that your children have the opportunity to learn at home or a private school.  And maybe your children met the requirements to receive an Opportunity Scholarship or Disability Grant, which help defray the cost of private school tuition and fees that you otherwise could not afford.

Or perhaps you are among those who nervously waited for the charter and magnet school to conduct its enrollment lottery, hoping that your children would be lucky enough to obtain one of a very limited number of seats available.  When that did not occur, they were placed on a waitlist with hundreds of other children vying for the same seats.  After many more months of worrying, it took multiple tries and old-fashioned luck to get your children into the charter or magnet school of your choice.  In some cases, Vegas has better odds.

Make no mistake.  You are the fortunate ones.

There are tens of thousands of families who envy you.  Some have limited public and private options in their communities.  Others cannot afford to forgo full-time employment to home school or send their children to even the most affordable private school.  Many do not qualify for one of North Carolina’s private school voucher programs.  But if they had the means and opportunity to select a school for their children, they surely would.

It is easy for you to take these educational options for granted, not because you have a feeling of entitlement but simply because more immediate concerns understandably occupy your attention.

But some of these opportunities that you enjoy are under attack by those who believe that you are ill-equipped to teach your children at home or select a school for them.  They say that, by abandoning the traditional district system, you are undermining democratic values, perpetuating the evils of racial segregation, hastening the privatization of schooling, and exercising privilege that you did not earn or deserve.  They say, regardless of evidence to the contrary, that you have made an educationally and morally destructive decision.

Their ideal would be to discontinue, or at least halt the expansion of, school choice programs entirely.  For example, due to the unsuccessful legal challenge spearheaded by his allies, Governor Roy Cooper inserted a provision into his proposed 2017-19 budget that would have phased out the Opportunity Scholarship Program, prohibiting additional low-income families from receiving private school vouchers.  The Republican majority in the General Assembly discarded that idea immediately and subsequently boosted funding for the program that they created and support.

Opponents’ alternative strategy is to impose crippling regulations and requirements on school choice programs.  This may include measures to dictate curriculum and instruction, prohibitions on the establishment of new schools, limitations on enrollment growth in existing schools, and adding reporting, testing, and other mandates.  Most are inspired by the district school model, despite its shortcomings.

If you are not attentive to these threats and actively oppose them, then your children may have fewer opportunities to thrive in a school that you – as the world’s leading expert on your children – have determined is best for them.

Don’t take your good fortune for granted.  Speak up.  And, as always, let me know how the John Locke Foundation can help.


Terry Stoops

Dr. Stoops is the director of the Center for Effective Education. Before joining the Locke Foundation in 2005, he worked as the program assistant for the Child Welfare Education Programs at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. He… ...

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