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Not Just a Zip Code

Contrary to popular belief, kindergarten through 12th grade education has seen improvement under Republican leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly and former Governor Pat McCrory. Today, students have more options for education than before, and that is thanks to a cap being lifted which determined the number of charter schools in North Carolina, as well as voucher laws which have been passed for low income and special needs families. These programs have created options for all families, and in turn, have had positive externalities on public school education. Classroom overcrowding is being alleviated, and benefits to teachers, including increases in teacher pay, are being experienced in North Carolina public schools.

While non-traditional education in North Carolina is not a new development, its popularity has seen a sharp increase over the past few years. Non-traditional education is comprised of three parts: private schools, charter schools and homeschooling. The difference between private schools and charter schools is that charter schools are funded by the state whereas private schools are privately funded. Just over twenty years ago, in 1996, North Carolina passed the Charter School Act, which enabled publicly-funded charter schools to be established in the state.

Private schools have always been available, but until recently, their desirability has been outweighed by the high costs that they pose to many families. Charter and private schools have both experienced growth in North Carolina, and this growth is no surprise to many. Homeschooling has also remained a popular option, but is the least affected form of non-traditional education by the state.

A series of Republican-led legislatures have fueled this growth. While the Charter School Act allowed for the creation of charter schools, it capped the total number of charter schools in North Carolina at just one hundred. In 2011, the General Assembly removed this cap. Between 2011 and early 2017, charter school enrollment has doubled, according to the Charlotte Observer. Additionally, the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Act was passed in July 2013, which authorized a voucher program that set aside a fund of $10.8 million for the 2014-2015 school year to provide up to $4,200 per family as a voucher for private school tuition.

In addition to a low-income requirement, the child must have also been enrolled the prior year in a public school or in kindergarten. In the first year of 2014-2015, the program helped just over 1,200 families. The General Assembly did not just expand options for low income families, but also for those families with special needs students. In 2013, Republicans initiated the Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grant, giving families up to $3000 per semester, $6,000 per year, to reimburse special education services for each eligible student. The law received bipartisan support, and immediately went into effect. While public schools have been improving special needs education, this law gives families the choice of a private school education if they deem it to be in their child’s best interest.

Non-traditional education measures in North Carolina have helped improve education holistically. However, opposition to such measures still remains. North Carolina Democrats argue that such measures take away from public education and act as subsidies for private schools. While charter schools are funded by the state, they are open to the public and every student has the opportunity to apply and attend. As aforementioned, vouchers for private schools come from a budgeted fund that is separate from public education.

Today, in North Carolina, more students have options, and public schools have not been harmed, but rather helped. Every student is unique, and has different abilities and aptitudes for learning. A student’s education should be determined by the family, not their income level or zip code.

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