School choice in North Carolina recently hit a major roadblock when Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones barred a virtual charter school from operating in the state. NC Learns, a non-profit organization, sought to open a virtual charter school with the goal of enrolling almost 2,000 students across the state. The school, NC Virtual Academy, would have been based in Cabarrus County, where the public school system has been faltering for years. Students from the Wake County Public School System or any school district across the state would have also been able to enroll. The virtual charter school initially received approval from the Cabarrus County school board, but the State Board of Education would have none of that. It didn’t want its monopoly on education decision-making weakened.
The government’s education establishment found a comrade to maintain its power and control in Judge Jones. Jones handed down a ruling stating that the NC Virtual Academy first needed approval from the omnipotent State Board of Education before its charter would be validated. Numerous school boards, including Wake County’s, joined in opposing the virtual charter school, revealing their complacency with our state’s lackluster status quo in education. Classes at the Virtual Academy were to commence in August but the court ruling has delayed any virtual charter school from even being considered, much less opened in North Carolina, until at least 2014. NC Learns has yet to decide whether it will appeal the ruling.
This ruling has serious implications. County school boards could be severely limited in developing the type of schools that adequately satisfy the needs of the students they serve because the ruling reaffirms the State Board of Education’s control over who can authorize charter schools. Counties may feel they know the needs of their students better than members of the State Board of Education, but as a consequence of this ruling, their opinions and concerns essentially do not matter. Subsequently, parental choice and improved educational opportunities have been sacrificed.
Why does the education establishment in our state not want virtual charter schools to prosper? It’s all about money and control. If virtual charter schools are allowed to operate, funds granted to traditional public schools will follow the students, rather than being dumped into failing schools. Education bureaucrats fear direct competition to traditional public schools because it threatens the establishment’s monopoly over public education. If you think about it, do most politicians send their children to public schools? More often than not, it is the politicians, the ones crafting public education policy for North Carolina’s children, who have the means to send their own children to public school alternatives. Should not all parents have the same ability to decide where their own children will obtain an education, regardless of their financial means? I believe so.
There is a deeper cause of contention as well. This involves the education establishment’s contempt of for-profit educational enterprises. While NC Learns is a non-profit organization, it had planned to use K12, a successful for-profit company that specializes in providing online education, to run the virtual school. For those on the Left, because the word “profit” was used in describing K12, the entire idea must be wretched nonsense. After all, it is an undisputed truth that the only responsible, qualified, efficient, and successful progenitor of education is the government, right?
If education is so vitally important, and it is, why not allow the market to spark innovation, efficiency and increased achievement in North Carolina’s schools? If there is an aversion to competition, it is usually a sign of a larger problem. Let’s solve that problem and move on. A little competition may challenge the State Board’s monopoly control of public education, but it would also improve our educational system. In the final analysis, that is what we all want.
Scott Blakeman is an intern with the Civitas Institute