N.C. education forecast 2017: choice and opportunity

N.C. education forecast 2017: choice and opportunity
December 15
09:30 2016

Darrell Allison

Guest Columnist

The 2016 year is drawing to a close, but its accomplishments in K-12 education say much about what we can expect in the year ahead.

This past year has ushered in landmark educational advancements in North Carolina, setting the stage for unprecedented innovation, choice, and opportunity in 2017. North Carolina families, including many in our African-American communities who seek stronger schools and increased options, have reason to believe their voices are being heard.

Supporting our public schools tops the list of priorities, and will continue to do so. This summer the state legislature approved a transformational budget with a historic pay increase for our public school teachers, affirming the critical role they play in educating 1.5 million students across North Carolina.

Parental school choice will also grow: The state budget increases funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides state-funded private school scholarships to low-income and working class families. The program’s budget will increase by $10 million annually for the next decade. More North Carolina parents than ever before will thus be empowered to choose the best school for their child. State funding will enable an additional 2,500 children each year to receive a scholarship through 2028-29. At that time, as many as 36,000 low-income students could attend private school using an Opportunity Scholarship.

Why is this important? Parental school choice is nothing new as families have utilized this for years – choosing a school (public or private) that works best for their children. The hard truth is that until now only wealthy families have been able to utilize parental school choice.

Today, and with the recent measures passed by the North Carolina General Assembly with the various scholarship programs and nearly 70 percent growth of public charter schools, working-class and middle-class families are now able to exercise the right to choose the school that works best for their children.

Moreover, the legislature’s action is a powerful response to parental demand – demand that has grown steadily each year. Since the Opportunity Scholarship Program launched in 2014-15, families statewide have submitted nearly 24,000 applications; they submitted almost 9,400 applications for the 2016-17 school year alone.

This program’s expansion surely comes as welcome news to many African-American parents in our state, who tell us they overwhelmingly favor school choice.

This summer, our organization, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, released a poll of 800 African-American voters statewide, revealing widespread support for choice: 64 percent said parents should be able “to choose the K-12 school their child attends through state-funded scholarships.”

Not only do African-American voters want choice; they also want change. Expect them to keep up the pressure on their elected representatives to provide it: Fully 82 percent of African-American voters in our poll said state lawmakers must do more to expand K-12 options for students in North Carolina.

Across the state, consensus is growing:  Parents should be able to choose the best school for their child, regardless of their address or income. Our African-American families know it. They clearly believe it. And in 2017, more will get to live it.

Darrell Allison is the founding president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

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