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A Year to Expand Educational Options

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Many North Carolina families welcome the beginning of a new year with serious conversations about household budgets, taxes, and school decisions, but educational choices can weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of parents. In response, a group of education policy experts and school choice proponents hope to offer a helping hand with a series of Town Hall discussions across the state focused on promoting legislation that would create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for families in North Carolina. Indeed, there is a growing consensus that parents should have choices in regard to their child’s education. Recent polling from the John W. Pope Civitas Institute found that nearly 9 in 10 North Carolinians agree that “Parents have the right to choose a school for their child that will best meet their child’s educational needs and supports their values.”

These town halls are a great opportunity to learn about how that belief in choice, held by so many North Carolinians, is becoming a reality. Each “Fulfilling the Promise: Empowering Parents Through School Choice” event will provide attendees with the opportunity to hear from Dr. Bart Danielsen, professor at NC State University, Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute, and Dr. Robert Luebke, educational analyst for the Civitas Institute. All scheduled Town Halls run from 5:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. and require free registration (click on the date links below to register). The next three events are:

  • January 20 at the Apex Community Center.
  • February 4 at Caldwell Academy in Greensboro.
  • March 22 at Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington. ( Update: This event has been postponed, and moved to another date which is TBD.)

While North Carolina students enjoy increased access to diverse educational options through home schools, private and parochial schools, charter public schools, and educational scholarships for qualified lower-income and disabled students, a specific recommendation to create an ESA program in NC has not yet come before the State Legislature. Through an ESA program, a percentage of each child’s per-pupil allotment — ordinarily allocated to a public school— would follow the child to a non-public school, such as a private school, home school, or other option. That funding could be used for a variety of educational services and products like tuition, online learning, textbooks, home school curricula, individual public school courses, and educational therapies. Under some plans, these funds can roll over from year-to-year and eventually roll into college savings accounts.

Civitas’ recent poll also found that 62 percent of parents would opt to enroll their children in a private, charter, magnet, or home school if they could, and 63 percent of North Carolinians would support the formation of ESAs to “allow state funds to be used by parents to create a personal account to pay for K through 12 education expense.”

Based on North Carolina’s recent history of providing more educational options to families and on consistent polling showing widespread support for continuing on that trajectory, 2016 looks like a great year for parents, educational policy advocates, and legislators to consider whether and how ESAs can empower parents and help more children succeed in school.

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