by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
The Heritage Education Freedom Rankings have been released. The annual rankings issue each state a composite score made of metrics of how well states support the values of educational freedom. North Carolina placed 14th, up one spot for last year. I applaud the Heritage Report. It details important findings. However, a little context is in order for North Carolina’s score.
Higher Ranking? The Heritage Study rightly notes that at the time of publication, the study did not include North Carolina’s massive expansion of the .Opportunity Scholarship Program. Had it been, there is a better than good chance the Tar Heel State would have been ranked in the top ten states for Educational Freedom. Regrettably the late passage of the budget override legislation, made it difficult to include the rankings. That’s unfortunate. But let’s be truthful, it also renders North Carolina’s current ranking inaccurate or incomplete.
Home School Population. Many point to North Carolina’s high home-schooling enrollment as a healthy sign of education freedom in North Carolina. However the last two years have seen signficant declines. In 2021, the North Carolina Office of Non Public Education reported 179,900 home schoolers were registered in North Carolina. Since then, the number of homeschoolers has declined significantly. First to 160,528 in 2022, and then to 152,717 in 2023. Why the decline? Officials at the North Carolina Office of Non-Public Education started to rigorously enforce school closure laws. It seems, in recent years, many parents who home school and then stopped, were failing to notify state officials that they had stopped homeschooling their children. While the students were no longer being educated at home, their numbers were still on the books. . In two years, the home school population in North Carolina declined by over 27,000 students. Those one-time developments have decreased the home school Even with the declines North Carolina’s home school population ranks among the nation’s largest. Yet you have to wonder how much the vigorous enforcement of rules has impacted family decision to home school. .
Methodology. Heritage’s methodology is a composite of scores in the categories of educational freedom, transparency, teacher freedom and return on investment. I’m elated the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been expanded. I’m also happy that Parents Bill of Rights legislation has been approved as well. Still there is significant work to do. One way for North Carolina can improve its Education Freedom score is by expanding public school choice. While the Tar Heel State has a thriving charter school community, there are no programs that allow students to transfer from one public school district to another. This is the next area of school choice expansion. Doing so will provide students access to improved educational opportunities.
The Education Freedom rankings give North Carolina much to celebrate. That’s good. However, an honest review shows there is still a long way to go. Improving academic transparency — something lawmakers have failed to do the past two sessions — and allowing students to choose public schools beyond their assigned districts are two ways to expand educational opportunity and also ensure North Carolina moves up in the Education Freedom rankings!