School choice stems from the idea that one learning environment will not fit every child or every family equally. As a result, there are now a variety of educational options that parents can choose from based on what best meets their needs. As Brian explained, “Parents, families, and students across the state should have access to the school that’s the best fit for them.”
Here’s what that looks like in North Carolina.
This is the most common option, with approximately 1.3 million children attending more than 2,500 public schools across the state. In general, students are assigned a school based on their district, but there may be exceptions, such as in cases of unique hardship.
With over 200 schools across the state and approximately 130,000 students enrolled, public charter schools are quickly growing in popularity. They work like public schools, but are allowed the freedom to innovate and operate in a way that best fits the school’s curriculum and approach.
Private schools are widely available, with more than 800 options across the state. They offer a variety of options to parents, especially since many of them are religiously affiliated. While they charge tuition, many offer scholarships. In addition to this, students with disabilities or families that meet certain income guidelines can qualify for North Carolina’s educational Opportunity Scholarships and/or scholarships for students with special needs. At present, there are approximately 115,000 students enrolled at a private school.
This option offers the most flexibility, as parents are able to tailor their children’s education as much as they want (provided they complete state assessments each year). Every family has the freedom to homeschool their children in North Carolina, provided the parent holds a high school diploma. There are more than 160,000 students being homeschooled across the state.
The response to school choice options in North Carolina has grown significantly over the last several years, with close to 20% of students now enrolled in a non-traditional school. Each of these models offer different advantages, so that parents can place their children in the environment that will help them thrive. Some of the deciding factors include things like class size, religion, and educational opportunities.
When asked about what opportunities are in store for the school choice movement in 2023, Brian’s answer was growth, especially in terms of funding. He is optimistic that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program will continue to grow in both popularity and capacity. This scholarship helps lower-income families that qualify to cover tuition at non-public schools. Similarly, he shared that he hopes the special needs scholarship will continue to expand so qualifying families with disabled children can get the resources that will help their children thrive. He also wants to see public charter schools receive more resources and equity in funding.
All of these school choice programs have been established by policies enacted by the state legislature. Unfortunately, in the past, as Brian points out, school choice legislation has not always been a bipartisan issue, but he is hopeful that future bills will grow to receive more support from both sides of the aisle. As he explains, by allocating funds towards these programs, lawmakers are supporting the individual students who will benefit from these options and the overall education of our communities. He explained that, “We should be doing more in North Carolina to fund students, not systems.”
The school choice movement started out as a grassroots initiative, illustrating the importance of families and individuals getting involved. Here are Brian’s recommendations for getting involved in school choice in North Carolina:
Education is one of the key predictors of a child’s future success, and our children deserve to have access to the educational environment that best meets their needs.