In January, a North Carolina poll on education returned what I found to be some sad, but pretty unsurprising, results. Writing about the poll, the John Locke Foundation’s Terry Stoops said,
As in previous polls, respondents believe that parents should be in charge of their children’s education. Over 77 percent say that parents are best suited to determine where a child should attend school, while only 12 percent put their faith in local school boards to make that decision. And if given the resources to select the school of their choice, less than a third of parents would choose to send their children to a traditional public school. Nearly half would opt for either a religious or nonsectarian private school.
Did you catch that last bit? Less than a third would choose to send their kids to traditional public schools. That’s fascinating, and a bit depressing.
This was really driven home to me a couple weeks ago when I was talking with a young, single mom. Her oldest child is due to start kindergarten in the fall, so I asked if she’d thought about where she wanted her daughter to go to school. “Well, she’ll have to go to the school where I live,” she replied, not sounding very enthusiastic. “Not necessarily,” I replied. “Do you know what a charter school is?”
I happened to know that there was an excellent public charter school close to where this mom lives. I also suspected that no one had ever told her about charter schools, that there might be other options for her children. As I started to explain how charters work, her eyes lit up. I told her that the charter wouldn’t cost her anything, that this particular one even provided transportation and meals, but that it had the freedom to do things a bit differently. I told her that there was a lottery to get in, so there was no guarantee, but that her child had as much of a chance as anyone else and that registering was easy.
She shared stories of her own negative experiences in public schools and told me how she’d love to be able to choose something different for her daughter. She told me she didn’t feel like the academics had been very good when she went to a traditional public school, and she specifically mentioned that she’d faced a lot of racism. When I told her that this particular school was majority black, she was shocked, but pleased.
This mom doesn’t meet any definition of privileged. She’s not white. She’s not well-educated. She’s struggled through times of homelessness. She doesn’t have anyone at home helping to pay the bills. She doesn’t even have a car. Despite that, given a bit of information, she was truly excited about the possibility of choosing a different type of schooling for her children and the opportunities that might give them as they get older. When I checked back a few days later, she told me she’d already gotten her daughter into the kindergarten lottery.
It’s not surprising to me, really. This mom knows that lots of other kids have advantages that hers don’t. She cares every bit as much about her children as any middle class parent I’ve ever met. She wants what’s best for them, and recognizes that there are limits to what she’s able to provide. She also realizes that education is one of the best ways that she can change the trajectory of her kids’ lives. She needed no encouragement to pursue that option once she knew it existed.
It’s moms like this that make me utterly convinced that school choice is important, and that we should seek to expand options to all parents. Whether that’s more charter schools in more areas, expanded Opportunity Scholarships to help lower-income families send their kids to private schools, or making it easier to homeschool, growing school choice in North Carolina is among the most significant things we can do in terms of policy to help break cycles of poverty and improve outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized children. For me, it feels like a moral issue. For kids who already face greater-than-average challenges, increasing school choice is among the best ways to give them a real chance.
POVs are point of view articles by NC Family staff and contributors