Parental school choice represents a simple but powerful idea: parents should be empowered to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, regardless of their address or income. Parents might decide that a traditional public school, a public charter school, a private school, or even a home school is the best educational environment for their child. But the bottom line is that they, not someone else, get to make this choice.
Sound revolutionary? In many ways, it is. At its heart, the school choice movement is a parent-led revolution. And it’s transforming K-12 education across the nation and North Carolina. Each year, K-12 educational options for families continue to grow.
Twenty-five years ago Minnesota jump-started the charter school movement, passing legislation to create the nation’s first charter schools. Now 43 states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing public charter schools. Almost three million students nationwide attend these innovative public schools of choice.
According to EdChoice, 30 states and the District of Columbia now offer families opportunities to participate in publicly-funded school choice programs―through private school tuition scholarship programs (vouchers), tax credit scholarship programs, individual tax credits or deductions for education expenses, grants for students with disabilities that offset the cost of tuition or other expenses, or even education savings accounts (ESAs). Hundreds of thousands of students across the country are benefiting from these school choice programs.
Among these states, five have passed legislation offering families ESAs―what some are calling “the next frontier” in school choice. ESAs are bank accounts authorized by the state that provide public funds for eligible families to spend on approved education expenses. Qualifying expenses typically include tuition, textbooks, testing services, or education therapies. ESA programs have generally targeted families with special needs students. Listen to PEFNC’s President Darrell Allison explain what ESAs are and how they operate.
North Carolina offers parents a range of non-traditional schooling options. In fact, nearly 300,000 students in North Carolina now attend non-traditional schools―either through public charter schools, private schools, or home schools.
Here’s a look at the current K-12 landscape in North Carolina, by the numbers:
- Public school enrollment: 1,459,852 students
- Public charter school enrollment: 81,951 students
- Private school enrollment: 97,721 students
- Home school enrollment: 118,268 students
Source: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Office of Charter Schools and North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education
What are the most common forms of parental school choice?
Charter schools are independent public schools with greater operational and educational freedom than traditional public schools. However, public charter schools are required to participate in the same state testing and accountability program as traditional public schools. They earn annual report card grades from the state based on school achievement and academic growth, just like traditional public schools. Unlike traditional public schools, however, public charter schools can be closed if they fail to meet academic or operational standards.
Nationwide nearly 7,000 charter schools serve almost 3 million students. In North Carolina in 2015-16, 158 public charter schools operated across the state, enrolling almost 82,000 pupils. In 2016-17, 171 public charter schools are opening their doors to students in North Carolina.
Charter schools are popular with parents: a 2016 report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that 78 percent of parents support having a charter school open in their neighborhood.
Click here to learn more about public charter schools.
Homeschooling offers families tremendous choice and flexibility in education, as it gives parents full control over how, what, when, and where their children learn. Roughly 2.3 million students are homeschooled across the nation, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, and homeschooling is a legal educational option in all states. In North Carolina, an estimated 118,268 students are taught at home in nearly 75,000 registered home schools, according to the latest numbers from the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education.
Homeschooling became a legal educational option for North Carolina families in 1985, when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Larry Delconte, a homeschooling parent. In 1988 the General Assembly passed legislation that defined the parameters and requirements of home schools.
Click here to learn more about homeschooling in North Carolina.
Special needs school choice programs help families meet the unique educational challenges and gifts of their children who have disabilities. These publicly-funded programs enable students to attend the school that best addresses their particular needs while offsetting the burden of tuition for their families. Special needs school choice programs exist because public schools are unable to meet the individual needs of every student.
At least 13 states, including North Carolina, currently offer some form of school choice program for special needs students. Learn more about North Carolina’s special needs school choice program, the Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grant.