By Bob Luebke and Drew Catt
The following article appeared on the opinion page of the Fayetteville Observer on March 20, 2020
In his State of the Union speech in February, President Trump introduced the nation to Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader who’s been on the wait list for a private school choice scholarship in her home state of Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the state’s governor vetoed a school choice expansion last year, making it harder for thousands of families — including Janiyah’s — to access educational options that would best suit their needs.
It’s a story playing out across the United States, even in states that already have educational choice programs on the books.
In North Carolina, families who have been able to, choose the schooling type that works best for their children, including those using one of the three highly successful private school choice programs to access options that best meet their unique needs. The largest of these — the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program — serves more than 12,000 students.
Parents across the state love their choice programs and want even more options, according to a recent Civitas-EdChoice Poll.
The poll revealed interesting results for registered and minority voters.
While 64 percent of parents in our survey reported sending their children to traditional public schools, only 32 percent said they would opt for that type of school if they weren’t limited by cost or location. In contrast, 43 percent said they would select a private school, but only 11 percent are currently accessing that type of school. That’s a huge gap between what parents want and what they’re able to access.
Our survey found tremendous support — nearly 70 percent — for North Carolina’s most popular private school choice program, which provides a voucher worth up to $4,200 per year to low- and moderate-income families. Support was strong and across the board. Seventy-eight percent of minorities expressed support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Even more encouraging was the strength of support across party lines. The high numbers from Republicans (70 percent), Democrats (67 percent), and Unaffiliated (62 percent) show the program truly enjoys bipartisan support.
While the last decade has given parents a variety of educational options, the demand for more choice is growing. Fifty-seven percent of respondents believe North Carolina lawmakers need to do more to expand educational opportunity. What’s even more remarkable? When asked about eligibility for school choice programs, nearly 50 percent of respondents said all students should qualify.
The Civitas-EdChoice survey also provided insight on the views of minorities and school choice. Like many other states, minority support for school choice eclipses that of white constituencies. For example, 57 percent of registered white voters expressed support for charters. Among minorities, 63 percent support charters. On the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the gap is even wider. As noted previously, 78 percent of minorities support the program, contrasted with 67 percent of registered voters overall.
How important is school choice to minority voters? When asked if they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports school choice, once again, minority support for school choice was strong, besting support levels of registered voters by a margin of 78 percent to 63 percent.
Some of the most uplifting news from the survey bolsters our deep conviction that families know what’s best for their children and are in the best position to find schooling options that meet their needs.
North Carolina parents trust other parents: 76 percent believe parents are best-suited to determine where a child should attend school, and 81 percent believe parents should be able to choose that school.
As policymakers, stakeholders, and community leaders explore ways to expand existing school choice programs or create new ways for students to get in where they fit in, we hope they will bear this research in mind.
North Carolina and a number of other states have made great progress in recent years recognizing the importance of empowering parents.
How will policymakers respond to this news? We hope they will choose to respond as they have in the past – by expanding educational options. But nothing is certain. North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper has reiterated his desire to end the Opportunity Scholarship Program. We hope not.
Today one in five students in North Carolina attends a school of choice – a charter, private or home school. But our work is far from done. We join those advancing education reform across the nation, committed to working tirelessly until all children, like Janiyah Davis, have a pathway to opportunity.
Bob Luebke is Director of Policy at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina. Drew Catt is Director of State Research and Special Projects at EdChoice, located in Indianapolis, Indiana.