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School choice is thriving in North Carolina

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In this week’s CommenTerry, I examine school choice from a few different angles, mostly right angles, but angles nonetheless.

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1. Applications for North Carolina’s voucher program for low-income families are "pouring in," according to WRAL.  Laura Leslie reports,

Three days after North Carolina began taking applications for the state’s new school voucher program, hundreds of families have entered the lottery, hoping to get the state to pick up part of the cost of private school tuition.  As of noon Tuesday, 1,400 families had applied online, meaning 2,100 children were already vying for the 2,400 or so vouchers that will be issued for the 2014-15 school year.

There are several reasons for such strong demand.  First, families like school choice.  Second, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) has done an amazing job of disseminating information about the voucher program and assisting potential applicants.  The State Education Assistance Authority is accepting applications through February 25.

This level of interest in the program is reason enough to expand it in subsequent years.  Get to it, legislators.

2. I received a note from a friend of mine who entered his child into the admissions lottery for Endeavor Charter School in Wake County.  To his disappointment, his son received lottery number 1,172 for one of a handful of available first-grade seats.  I’m no statistician, but my gut tells me that the North Carolina Education Lottery probably has better odds than that.

Charter schools must fill vacant seats using a lottery, which is one reason why they cannot engineer their student populations using the socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic characteristics of applicants.  Endeavor must accept the students that chance provides.

State law limits the number of students a charter school may admit for each school year.  Additionally, charter schools with a strong record of success, such as Endeavor, cannot establish satellite campuses.  So popular charter schools accept a fraction of the students who apply.  As I mentioned above, families like school choice.

3. Unlike most families, Matt Buys, a member of the Asheville City Board of Education, does not like school choice.  In an op-ed published in the News & Observer, Mr. Buys tells the heartbreaking story of a student named David, who overcame unimaginable trauma and became a successful public school student.

The heroic work of Asheville City Schools teachers and administrators is admirable, and David appeared to be well served by the district.  Unfortunately, there may be other children who, unlike David, do not thrive in public schools.  What about them? In other words, David’s story is not a sufficient reason to oppose school choice.

Mr. Buys contends that vouchers and charter schools "siphon money away from kids like David."  (By the way, choice also "siphons" kids away from the Asheville City Schools.)  But from the description of David’s story, it appears that caring adults, not money, were his saving grace. 

Speaking of money, did I mention that, at $11,243, the Asheville City Schools had the ninth highest per student expenditure in the state last year?  When a child leaves the district and takes a $4,200 voucher to a private school or chooses to attend a charter school, say the $7,967 per student ArtSpace Charter in Swannanoa, I think the district fares just fine.  One might say that the Asheville City Schools siphon money away from the private and charter schools in the area, not the other way around. Kidding.

Facts and Stats

Last week was National School Choice Week for 2014.  There were over 5,500 events held across the nation to celebrate school choice, including a major event in Charlotte that featured North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

Education Acronym of the Week

NCSEAA — North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority

Quote of the Week

"N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory said at a school choice rally in Charlotte last week that ‘we all must contribute to helping with this cause (school choice).’ The governor’s comprehensive education plan for the next few years is scheduled to be released soon.

‘I want to let you know that in the coming weeks, my education team will be announcing a strategic plan with focus three focus areas in education: results, rewards and respect,’ McCrory said."

– Preston Spencer, "Education options growing for students," Statesville Record & Landmark, Thursday, January 30, 2014

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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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