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home : state news : state news April 7, 2020

1/29/2020 12:55:00 PM
School Choice

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

Civitas Institute has released its annual School Choice Poll findings. The poll asked registered voters to weigh in on a variety of issues related to school choice and personal education preferences. A second survey, exclusively consisting of minority voters, was also conducted.

The first several questions in the survey were reserved for parents of K-12 students. Of this sub-set, two-thirds of respondents’ children attend a traditional public school. Charters and homeschools were the second most common school type (11 percent each).

Discernable differences emerged among Republicans and Democrats on several school choice issues:

Republicans were four times more likely to send their child to a religious or parochial school (12 percent) than Democrats (3 percent).

The top reason Republicans gave for opposing school choice (18 percent) was, “it hurts public schools financially.” The top reason Democrats gave for opposing school choice (23 percent) was, “it encourages de facto segregation.”

Despite these differences, the unity around several core aspects of school choice were undeniable:

Support for the Opportunity Scholarship, which provides vouchers for low-income families, was definitive:
70% of Republicans favored it; 67% of Democrats and 62% of unaffiliated voters.

A plurality of Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters said that the most compelling reason for school choice was that it gives families the ability to “choose the best educational option.”

An overwhelming majority from all three political identifications said that they agreed that parents should have the ability to choose where their child attends school. (Republicans, 86 percent; Democrats, 79 percent; unaffiliated, 79 percent).

“No matter their political background, people want choice,” said Bob Luebke, director of policy at Civitas.

A second survey focused exclusively on the opinion of minority voters. Of those surveyed, 84 percent said parents should have the ability to choose where their child attends school. Over three-fourths (78 percent) favored the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Sixty-three percent favored charter schools.

A total of 60 percent said they believe state lawmakers need to do more to expand educational options for families, with 78 percent saying they are more likely to support a candidate who supports school choice programs.

“Poor and minority children are trapped in some of the most challenged schools, it’s no surprise why minority parents embrace school choice,” added Luebke. “Individuals and organizations that oppose those opportunities are going to be confronting a lot of angry parents. It’s already happening.”

In 2011, the state removed the charter school cap. The result has been a quick growth in the number of charter schools in the state--now over 200. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted the Opportunity Scholarship Program. That made it possible for some parents to send their children to private or religious schools.

Traditional public schools still educate 80 percent of North Carolina's 1.8 million K-12 students, but the regular public schools saw enrollment fall by over six thousand students from 2017-18 to 2018-19.

Charter schools--including several new ones in our area--saw the greatest increase, with 9,915 new students in 2018-19, followed by home schools, with 6,288 new students, and private schools including religious schools.

Charter school enrollment in North Carolina has increased more than 200 percent in the past 10 years. State funding for charter schools has grown from about $16.5 million in 1997 to now more than $580 million. Of the $8.93 billion in state funding for public education, 6.5 percent is allotted to charter schools.

Homeschooling has increased from about 800 children statewide in the mid-1980s when it was first approved as a legal option to about 150,000 this year.

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