July 13, 2018 11:48 AM
Nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina students is not attending a traditional public school, and that percentage is likely to continue rising as more families choose alternative education options.
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.
“Families are more attuned to and used to having choices at their fingertips, and that is entering education as well,” said Brian Jodice, interim president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina. “We’re no longer in this mindset that because I live at this address or this ZIP code I have to attend this particular school that works for many students but doesn’t have to be the only choice.”
But what’s seen as an expansion of school choice by some is viewed by others as part of an effort to undermine the state’s traditional public schools.
“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,” said Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project.
The education landscape has changed considerably since Republicans took control of the General Assembly after the 2010 election. Changes have included:
▪ Eliminating the 100-school cap on charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. A total of 12 new charter schools will open this fall, raising the number statewide to 185. This year, legislators also allowed four Mecklenburg County towns to create their own municipal charter schools.
▪ Creating the Opportunity Scholarship program that provides up to $4,200 a year in vouchers for lower-income families to use to attend private schools.
▪ Creating two different programs for parents of special-needs students to attend private schools and pay related education costs.
▪ Making it easier for home-school students to take classes from people who are not their parents.