- Enrollment in North Carolina’s traditional public schools continues to decrease; 1 in 5 children now attend either public charter, private or home schools.
- The expansion of school choice policies allows people to better express their true educational preferences.
- Despite the Left’s attempts to twist the narrative, a diverse education marketplace is a good thing for all North Carolina families.
A recent News & Observer article reports that enrollment in North Carolina’s traditional public schools has decreased for the third consecutive year. The article states that one in five North Carolina children are attending a traditional public school alternative, such as public charter schools, private schools, or home schools.
Some opponents of school choice would have you believe this indicates the success of a nefarious plot by lawmakers to deceive parents into opting for non-public school options.
Part two of this article will examine the Left’s flawed attempt to twist the story to their political advantage. For now, let’s explore the implications of the recent finding.
Preferences in the Education Marketplace
The fact is that schools of choice are just that – a choice. No family of a charter school, private school, or home school student is forced to educate their child that way. Let’s just let this sink in for a moment, because it is simple but foundational and often conveniently left out of the narrative.
The creation or expansion of school choice policies do not require families to choose them. When a parent moves their child from a traditional public school (TPS) to an alternative school option, it reveals their true preferences.
In the field of economics, preferences are the driving factor of how individuals make decisions. It can be difficult to know someone’s true preferences, but they can be deduced through observation of a person’s choices in the marketplace. As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
As markets become more diverse, people are able to find options that more closely meet their preferences. School choice policies simply expand options for people to better express the preferences they already have. For one out of five North Carolina students, their assigned traditional public school was not the option that most aligned with their educational needs or goals.
Don’t buy in to the narrative that school choice policies “steal” students from the public school system. This assumes that traditional public schools are entitled to their student populations. When traditional public schools have a monopoly on the education marketplace, they have no incentive to be sensitive to family and student needs. In that regard, school choice policies have the potential to benefit all students by increasing competition among schools.
In an amazing case of cognitive dissonance, progressives warn of the evils of monopoly power in the provision of goods and services, such as higher costs and declining quality, yet at the same time vigorously advocate for a monopoly in the provision of education.
Yes, local education agencies and the state should work together to provide high-quality traditional public school options for families. Every student in North Carolina deserves a “sound, basic education.” Even working from that baseline, however, parents and students may still benefit from a more diverse educational marketplace. To assume otherwise is to assume that all children are the same and should be educated in the same way.
The Left’s False Narrative
Opponents of school choice claim the traditional public school system is always the best option to educate children. They feel that only government can provide the type of instruction conducive to the “common good”, and that private schools turn students into mere consumers and victims of evil, profit-seeking corporations.
If this is true, school choice expansion should not be a threat to its monopoly. All families would choose to enroll their students in the traditional public school if it was the best option for everyone, because people make decisions that best align with their preferences. But, as the decline in traditional public school enrollment shows, many parents do not agree with that narrowly-defined version of public education. And that doesn’t sit well with the anti-choice crowd, who think families cannot be trusted to make such decisions.
Instead, they allege that the Republican-controlled General Assembly has been trying to manipulate people’s preferences through decreasing the quality of traditional public schools. This implies that the goal of the school choice movement is to change people’s preferences. In reality, however, the objective is to expand access to options that match the preferences they already have.
Finally, it is worth noting that media bias plays no small role in shaping the conversation on this issue. The allegation of Republicans “starving” traditional public schools has been put forth by the editorial board of the Raleigh News & Observer.
In Part II of this article, we will explore problems with the Left’s anti-school choice narrative.