By John Hood
RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly is about to make all children eligible for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program. They won’t all receive the same amounts — poor and middle-income families will be eligible for vouchers in the range of $6,500 to $7,200 per student, while upper-income households will receive much less. Nevertheless, both proponents and opponents are quite properly using the term “universal” to describe the policy, which will go into effect for the 2024-25 academic year.
School-choice advocates are ecstatic. Critics are despondent. Although my sympathies here are evident and longstanding, I think it would behoove both sides to temper their expectations a bit. There won’t be a gigantic exodus of children from district-run public schools in the fall of 2024.
For one thing, North Carolina’s current private schools don’t have the capacity to absorb such an enrollment boom. One of the best arguments for choice programs is their potential to foster entrepreneurship in education. Just as the creation of charters gave educators, parents, and reformers the capacity to develop new models for public education, voucher expansion will give existing providers the capacity to add new grades and campuses while creating opportunities for new entrants to the K-12 space.
It can’t all happen in a year, though. It takes time to assemble teams, build or rent facilities, hire faculty, and develop content.
Furthermore, while some families will immediately take advantage of scholarships for which they’ll be newly eligible, many others will be intrigued but cautious. They’ll do their homework about what private options are already available, where new schools will open, and when they calculate the benefits of transferring their children will exceed the costs (which aren’t purely monetary, of course).
Still other families will have little interest in taking advantage of opportunity scholarships at all, either because they’re satisfied with the education their children are receiving in public schools — district or charter — or because they don’t like the private options available.
Many voucher foes are convinced the program is part of an elaborate conspiracy to destroy public schools. They’re mistaken, but I know they won’t take my word for it. Over the coming years, I expect the facts on the ground to make my point for me.
The leaders of North Carolina’s school districts aren’t just going to stand around and wait for new or expanding private schools to recruit their students away. They’re going to try to enhance their services to protect their enrollments. This is not a guess. This is how comparable markets already work. Federal and state taxpayers already subsidize scholarships and loans for students whether they attend private universities or public ones. Patients can spend Medicare or Medicaid dollars at Catholic hospitals if they wish. Parents can use child-care subsidies at church-run preschools.
Moreover, we already know from decades of empirical research that when public elementary and secondary schools are subject to increased competition from private alternatives, they improve. They hire better teachers. Their students score higher on reading and math tests. They graduate at higher rates.
Before 2023, the General Assembly spent many years debating policy issues in public education. They discussed how to train and compensate principals and teachers, how to teach youngsters to read, and how to shape the curriculum. Nothing that happens this session will end any of these debates. Legislators and policymakers will go on reforming public education, the provision of which will remain a constitutional obligation and a practical necessity.
Expanding the Opportunity Scholarship program this session represents only the beginning of a process that will unfold over many years. If you think you know exactly what the resulting market for K-12 education will look like, you’re fooling yourself. But if you think that future market for K-12 education promises to be more rigorous, more creative, more accommodating of diverse interests and values, and better suited to helping young North Carolinians thrive and prosper, then you and I agree.
Change is coming. But it won’t come overnight.
John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).
This should have always been.
The only people who are against “choice” in anything are those that want to control everything.
What a terrible article. If it’s really about “choice” and “competition:, then pay the full amount and provide transportation for those who can’t afford private schools. Then make sure that both sides have equal rules as to who they have to take in. Make private schools responsible for the tax dollars they’re receiving and make them have to provide the same tests. Fairs fair, right? Then think about amending the state Constitution from providing “free and public schools” to “free schools, public and private”.
How many parents who own multiple cars still have their kids ride the bus, Joyce?
Are you seriously trying to argue that kids don’t ride the bus? Even if they own multiple cars, lots of parents work. The ones that can’t get their parents to drive them, they’re left to the public schools. This whole thing about competition is a charade as there aren’t equal rules here. Not even close.
Joyce, the thing is – all those kids you see on buses are just crisis actors. The buses are not real, either. You’re just still plugged in to the Matrix.
We know parents work because they lost their minds when Covid closed their taxpayer funded childcare (Socialist) for a year.
Making private schools like public schools does not make sense and will degrade the quality of the private school defeating the point of sending your kid there.
Then don’t send my tax dollars to private schools and don’t pretend it’s “competition” when they don’t have to follow the same rules. As is obvious, it isn’t about “competition”, it’s about dismantling the public schools where they , and only they, have to take the students who are less than perfect.
Thank you for making Joyce’s point. Call it what it is. Private schools are just the new “white flight.”
There is another choice besides private schools and charter schools and that is “home schooling”….it is legal and very possible. We Christians need to start moving our children out of secular public schools that teach the opposite of what we believe and know is true. If we want to know why this county is in such moral decline and we are, it’s because of our schools, our homes and our churches. We took God out of the schools and the Bible out of the classroom and look where we are. We let our kids be taught that there is no God, no judgement for their actions, no hope and they are evolved animals. We teach them silly thinks like “big bang fairy dust” was sprinkled on the universe and all things magically came into existence. It is time we as Christians start obeying the Bible and raise our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord instead of secular humanism indoctrination. People seem more concerned about “Bud Light” and their advertising campaigns than losing their own kids to atheism taught in “State” schools. We need a national “Exodus” movement.
“We” aren’t all Christians. So what do people who are a different religion or atheist do?
You can also homeschool, it’s not just for Christians!
The bill takes money that would have gone to public schools and allows it to be diverted to alternative schools. The public schools will become defunct and force parents to use alternative schools or no school. Alternative schools don’t provide transportation or food (see Thales website) which is an enormous burden for families. The bill includes a plan to refill the voucher program for several years but what happens when these institutions raise tuition? I feel like it’s a bait and switch much like the housing boom during the pandemic. Folks sold their homes and rented thinking the extra funds from the sale could get them in a different home only to find themselves renting long term. When rent increases two fold in 6 months folks CANNOT labor enough to compensate. What will our plan be then? It seems like the legislature wanted to make students go to institutions that they could either sway the curriculum or indoctrinate Nationalists that will sadly have Christianity stripped away as the last play. Our state legislators only make ~$18,000 a year. They are primed for alternative revenue streams.
True school choice requires eliminating the SOCIALIST system we currently use and letting each parent pay for/provide education for their own child. Why make people pay taxes to support schools if they have no children in school? We can end the government’s continuing overreach by eliminating nearly all SOCALIST taxes and moving to an actual pay-as-you-go system. If you don’t need schools, don’t pay for them!
So if I choose not to drive then I shouldn’t be paying taxes for any new roads to be built in JoCo, right?
@Surarez: Exactly — let’s turn the roads into toll roads, then you only pay for thr roads that you use!!!
The real issue is that many parents are beginning to realize that public schools are failing in their first priority, which is educating a productive citizenry. They have turned into arenas for social programming, victimhood, and promoting lack of personal accountability. You can see it in the number of charter, private and home schooling numbers dramatic increases in recent years. In joco, both ALA and Thales are expanding grade levels. Unfortunately, I don’t see a change coming anytime soon; as long as we see the chaos currently going on in public schools where teachers are expendable, parents are non existent ( unless their child is in trouble) and administrators are politicians.