North Carolina Becomes 10th State to Enact Universal School Choice
Updated: 09/29/2023 10:32 AM EDT
Last week, the North Carolina state legislature gave final approval for a “universal” school choice program that allows all students in the state to receive tuition assistance to pay for private school tuition. Education experts are welcoming the news as a way to expand options for parents and force the public school system to enact reforms.
The news comes as a tidal wave of states across the nation are passing legislation to expand the educational options for which students can use taxpayer dollars beyond public schools, which have been mired in controversy in recent years over explicit sexual content in curriculums and library books, students being encouraged to question their biological sex, gender identities of students being hidden from parents, parents being denied the option of opting their children out of pro-LGBT material, biological males being allowed to compete in girls’ sports and use girls’ locker rooms and restrooms, divisive critical race theory content in curriculums, teachers unions refusing to reopen schools while other public places were open in 2021, mandating the wearing of ineffectual masks, and plunging student proficiencies in reading and math.
As reported by EdChoice, North Carolina became the 10th state to enact some form of universal school choice program since 2022, which include education savings accounts (ESAs), tax credits, or vouchers. The other states include Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia.
An additional eight states have either enacted new programs or expanded existing programs to open up school choice for students this year, including Alabama, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Two more states, Pennsylvania and Texas, are likely to expand their school choice programs this fall.
Similar to other state programs, North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program will offer up to $6,492 per child per year for tuition vouchers for the lowest income families, starting in the 2024-2025 school year. Higher income families will be eligible for less than the full amount, with the wealthiest families eligible for 45% of the full amount.
In May, Governor Roy Cooper (D) created controversy when he declared a “state of emergency” over the proposed universal school choice legislation, claiming that it would “set back our schools for a generation.” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) said of Cooper’s action, “Meaningless publicity stunts do nothing to improve educational outcomes in our state.”
As things currently stand, nearly one in five American K-12 students now live in a state with universal school choice, which equals about 20 million students (36% of all students). This represents a 60% increase in access to school choice in the last two years.
The explosion of school choice programs is coinciding with a surge in families choosing to remove their children from public school and send them to private schools, as well as homeschool their children. Since the COVID pandemic of 2020, which caused widespread school closures, 1.2 million K-12 students have not returned to public school, with 26% choosing to homeschool. Overall, homeschooling has mushroomed from 2.65 million kids in 2020 to 3.72 million today, according to the latest numbers.
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, was encouraged by North Carolina’s new school choice program.
“This is great news,” she told The Washington Stand. “School choice is a wonderful option for parents who want to leave the public school system. For parents who need to stay, the fact of school choice as an option will be another pressure point on school officials to be responsive to the needs and desires of parents and the community.”
Kilgannon continued, “The current educational monopoly allows schools to ignore parents and resist change. School choice is real time help for parents and leverage for school reformers who want to have a voice in how public school money is spent so that American families can rely on the very best schools in the world. We are funding public schools at massive levels in many cases, and yet results are poor. This is a great victory, but the work to reform education continues. The future of the country depends on it.”
**Editor’s note: This article has been corrected from a previous version which incorrectly stated that North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program funds homeschooling costs.
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.