North Carolina School Choice Laws Lead to Massive Flight from Public Schools

P. Gardner Goldsmith | July 18, 2018
Font Size

One of the great and forgotten principles of freedom is that it is supposed to apply across all peaceful human action.

So when a person who truly believes in freedom talks about it, he knows it applies to not just speech – as leftists used to believe – but also peaceful market transactions, and that includes education. Left to their own devices, individuals will show any interest they have in educating their children or themselves by doing business with providers of the education service, and competition will drive up quality as it drives down costs.

Is it any wonder, then, that a new report from The Charlotte News Observer shows that in the years following a 2010 Republican-led school choice revolution, government-run school attendance is plummeting, while alternative school options are flourishing?

As T. Keung Hui writes for the Observer:

For the third year in a row, enrollment has fallen in North Carolina’s traditional public schools even as the number of students continues to rise in charter schools, private schools and homeschools. The percentage of the state’s 1.8 million students attending traditional public schools has dropped to 80.8 percent and is continuing to fall rapidly.

The possible reason for the change? Republicans took control of the NC Assembly in 2010, and, as Hui notes, began offering parents opportunities to get their kids out of the government school monopoly.

Among their legislative changes was the elimination of the 100 school cap for charter schools, which has seen a near doubling of the number of charters to 185. The NC Assembly also created what they called the Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers parents of qualifying students vouchers of up to $4,200 annually to send their kids to private schools. The Assembly started two programs for parents of special needs children to attend private schools and pay related costs, and gave home-schooling parents more freedom to let their children learn from specialists outside the home.

While not all of those completely take government or wealth redistribution out of the equation (vouchers and “scholarships” still force other taxpayers to shell out cash if the amount is more than what the parents would have paid in taxes), and there still are large-scale “content mandates” applied by the state to charter schools, home schools, and private schools, these moves have offered a sizeable set of alternatives to the union-controlled, centrally planned public school monopolies.

These would be the monopolies that, despite ever-skyrocketing demands on taxpayers – including those who never had kids -- not only don’t improve, they have had to hide behind 1995 watering down of the then-titled Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and a bell-curve adjustment in the SAT grading system to even claim that they didn’t lose ground in the latter half of the 1990s.

This would be the threat-based, tax-based, politically dominated pedagogy that takes money from everyone, and then pits everyone against each other to see what will be taught, when, and by whom. It is the system that leaves kids vulnerable to violence, and leaves parents wondering what politically-infused version of history will be taught each year. So is it any wonder that parents are seizing opportunities to help their kids escape the “twelve-year sentence”?

But slight freedom for parents and brighter futures for their kids don’t please those connected with the gravy train. As Hui notes, Kris Nordstrom, a consultant for the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project offered these tired old clichés about more choice:

North Carolina has already embraced the privatization, the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda of dismantling public schools in favor of their donors who’d rather try to monetize what should be a public good.

Isn’t that cute? He called the government-mandated payments, government-controlled curricula, and government-run monopoly of education a “public good”. He used an amorphous and internally contradictory pair of words to say that all of that coercion and threatening of taxpayers, parents, and kids, is a “good.” 

But if it’s “good,” who measures that? Clearly we can’t tell if people really think it’s a “good” if they are forced to pay for it, and the test results for public schools indicate that it’s not as “good” as private, church-based, or home-schooling, usually done at fractions of the cost. Strange, how people connected to politicians often try to hide behind the “public good” screen as they hunt for more tax cash.

And the results speak for themselves. Parents are breaking their kids out of the government school prison. As The College Fix reports:

Charter schools (in NC) have grown by twice as many students as public schools have lost since the 2014-15 school year.

And Hui notes this is a drop of: “14,293 students in that time period. At the same time, charter schools added 31,199 students.”

He adds:

Newly released state figures show that during that same three-year period, enrollment in homeschools went up by 28,896 students and private schools gained 4,516 students. Private school enrollment had been on the decline before the voucher program was created… The enrollment disparity was particularly sharp during the 2017-18 school year, when traditional public schools lost 6,011 students from the prior year even as charter schools, homeschools and private schools combined added 18,093 students… The percentage of students attending the state’s traditional public schools has dropped 5.6 percentage points since the 2010-11 school year.

Wow. It’s almost as if parents and their kids want more alternatives to the government-run paradigm. How strange that, when allowed to choose something other than enslavement and monopoly, people often do.

Of course, this just echoes the real history of education in America, where, as scholar Samuel Blumenfeld noted in numerous books on the subject, government did not start controlling education until the latter decades of the 19th Century, and education quality was so high, it was lauded internationally by people like Alexi de Tocqueville.

Well done, North Carolinians who favor freedom. It’s not a total win, but a lot of kids are being helped by these cracks in the education monolith.