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Enrollment falls in traditional North Carolina schools as state GOP lawmakers boost school choice

Enrollment in traditional public schools in North Carolina is falling, a trend brought on by the more 'school choice' opportunities in the state.(monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)

Enrollment in North Carolina’s traditional public schools has fallen for the third straight year, as more parents place their children in charter schools, private schools and "homeschools," the News & Observer reported.

During the 2017-18 school year, 80.8 percent of the state's 1.8 million students received their education in a traditional public school setting. That means nearly one in five North Carolina students is not attending a traditional public school.

“Families are more attuned to and used to having choices at their fingertips, and that is entering education as well,” Brian Jodice, interim president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, told the newspaper. “We’re no longer in this mindset that because I live at this address or this ZIP code I have to attend this particular school. That works for many students but doesn’t have to be the only choice.”

Supporters of "school choice" in North Carolina and elsewhere applaud the trend, while others call it an effort to dismantle traditional public schools. Typically, charter schools are taxpayer-funded yet have some leeway in the requirements that traditional public schools must follow.

“North Carolina has already embraced the privatization, the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda of dismantling public schools in favor of their donors who’d rather try to monetize what should be a public good,” Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, said.

How have Republican lawmakers encouraged school choice?

Under a Republican-dominated state government, the face of public education has seen considerable changes since 2010, the report stated.

One of the changes was the elimination of a 100-school cap for charter schools. North Carolina will have a total of 185 charter schools after 12 new ones open in the fall. Legislators this year gave four Mecklenburg County towns permission to create their own municipal charter schools, according to the report.

Additionally, the state is offering scholarships of up to $4,200 a year so children from lower-income families can attend private schools.

The state also created two separate programs that allow parents to send their special needs children to private schools. Finally, the state made it easier for students to receive home-schooling from people who are not their parents.

“We’ve created a climate in North Carolina that’s getting friendlier by the day to help families make choices in their children’s education and we’ll see the trend continue of more families making alternative educational options,” Jodice said.

What are the figures?

Enrollment in the state’s traditional public schools has dropped every year since the 2014-15 school year. Since then, it has dropped by 14,293 students, while charter schools have added 31,199 students.

Over the same 3-year period, enrollment in homeschooling increased by 28,896 students and private schools gained 4,516 students, the report stated. Private school enrollment was declining prior to the creation of the voucher program.

The 2017-18 school year showed the sharpest decline. Traditional public schools lost 6,011 students from the prior year. Meanwhile, the charter schools, homeschools and private schools added a combined total of 18,093 students.

Since the 2010-11 school year, traditional public school enrollment has decreased by 5.6 percent, according to the report.

What are people saying?

Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation told the News & Observer the trend is partly related to parents taking advantage of the greater number of choices.

But not everyone is happy about it.

In June, the Schott Foundation For Public Education and the Network For Public Education gave North Carolina an F grade and ranked it 48th nationally among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for its “commitment to public schools.” The report criticized North Carolina for its policies on charter schools and private school vouchers.

“The narrative that’s surrounding the perception of public schools is being written by people who favor private schools and charter schools in the legislature,” Stu Egan, a Forsyth County English teacher and a member of the advisory board of Red4EdNC, a teacher advocacy group, told the News & Observer.

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