Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Francis X. De Luca and Robert C. Enlow
Like Ohio and Florida, North Carolina is a battleground state in determining who will lead America over the next four years – what a responsibility. But amazingly, unlike many Ohioans and Floridians, most N.C. voters aren’t trusted enough to choose their children’s schools. Something is wrong with that picture, and voters know it.
School choice empowers parents to select private schools for their kids through tax relief or publicly funded scholarships. Today, 21 states and Washington, D.C., employ some type of school choice mechanism. In 2011, North Carolina created a program that provides tax credits to parents of special needs children to help pay for educational settings outside traditional public schools. Although important, that initiative pales in comparison to other states’ school choice programs.
Ohio, for example, offers choice scholarships to children with special needs, kids stuck in failing schools, and low-income students in Cleveland. Last year, nearly 23,000 Ohio children received scholarships. In Florida, scholarships are available for low-income kids and disabled children. In 2011, more than 60,000 Florida students used scholarships to access private schools.
A new survey released by our organizations found North Carolinians want that same freedom.
In a statistically representative sample of N.C. voters, 65 percent favor tax-credit scholarships, a policy that provides tax credits to businesses and individuals that donate to scholarship-giving nonprofits; only 23 percent were opposed. Similarly, 56 percent supported education savings accounts, in which the state deposits funds that parents can use to cover private school tuition, online education, tutors, or future college expenses; just 28 percent opposed ESAs.
It’s no wonder North Carolinians want options. Looking at the state’s K-12 education system, only 29 percent think it’s going in the right direction; 55 percent believe it is on the wrong track. Today, the default in North Carolina is that parents’ ZIP codes determine the schools where they must send their kids. That’s why nearly 87 percent of students are in traditional public schools – regardless of quality – and only 3 percent are in charters, 6 percent in private schools, and 5 percent in home schools.
However, according to our survey, if voters could select any type of school to obtain the best education for their children, just 34 percent would choose traditional public schools whereas 39 percent would select private schools, 15 percent would opt for charters, and 11 percent would home school their kids.
Importantly, the availability of such choices would encourage improvement among all N.C. students. Reputable studies have found that the academic performances of children who receive choice scholarships improve. The latest study found choice scholarships increase the likelihood African American children will attend college. Other empirical studies have concluded choice scholarships raise the academic outcomes for kids remaining in traditional schools.
Unlike elections, school choice is a win-win scenario. But, in this state, choosing one’s school is a vote most families aren’t allowed to take.
De Luca is president of the Civitas Institute. Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writers’, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board