School choice in North Carolina has taken a major hit. Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones recently barred a virtual charter school from operating. NC Learns, a non-profit organization, wanted to open a virtual charter school that planned to enroll almost 2,000 students across the state. The school in question, NC Virtual Academy, received approval from the Cabarrus County school board to open and operate, but the State Board of Education would have none of that. I guess it didn’t want its death-grip on education policy to be weakened.
The State Board of Education found a comrade in the courts. Judge Jones handed down a ruling stating that the NC Virtual Academy first needed approval from the State Board of Education. Classes at the Virtual Academy were to commence this coming August but the court ruling has subsequently delayed any virtual charter school from even being considered, let alone opened and operated in North Carolina, until at least 2014. NC Learns has yet to decide whether or not it will appeal the ruling.
This ruling could set a precedent which inhibits county school boards from developing the type of schools that best fits the needs of the students they serve. The ruling reaffirms the State Board of Education’s control over who can authorize charter schools. Counties who feel they know the needs of their students better than members of the State Board of Education, they need not apply. As a result, parental choice and improved educational opportunities and outcomes have been sacrificed.
Why does the education establishment in our state not want virtual charter schools to prosper? It’s simple: follow the money. If virtual charter schools are allowed to operate, funds granted to traditional public schools will be siphoned away. Public schools do not want to lose funds to unconventional educational alternatives. Furthermore, virtual schools offer direct competition to public schools and challenge its control over public education. When school choice is an option, government-run schools are rarely the first choice of parents and students.
There is a deeper cause of contention, though. This involves the education establishment’s hatred 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. Oh, the insanity! If the word “profit” is used anywhere or at any time, the idea must be wretched nonsense. We all know 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 it 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. That’s a good thing.