Mike Long to Secretary Betsy DeVos: North Carolinians want school choice! And you know what—they deserve it!

The following are prepared remarks delivered by PEFNC president Mike Long during a roundtable discussion with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on October 5, 2020.

My name is Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. I am dedicated to our mission, which is to promote equal access to educational opportunities across the state—to extend the power of school choice to as many families as possible regardless of income, zip code, or race. Why? Because parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice—traditional or nontraditional.

You see, I’m a 35-year educator. I taught 8th grade social studies and North Carolina history in the Durham Public School System. I also developed a character education program used in school systems all over the country, allowing me to train over 50,000 public school educators in how to effectively use it. I’ve been a high school principal and also the head of a private school. So, I have experienced and participated in both private and public education, both as a teacher and an administrator.

At PEFNC, I am grateful that I can now come alongside families across our state to inform them of their educational options in North Carolina. This organization advocates for public policies that will further educational freedom for parents in our great state. This work has given parents choices. And while the majority of North Carolina’s students are enrolled in traditional public schools, it’s incredible to believe that one in five students in North Carolina today have chosen a school outside of the traditional public school system—be it a public charter school, a private school, or home school. 

We are coming together today at a pivotal time: the year 2020, where the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has shown in stark reality just how crucial school choice is to the welfare of families. 

We are so grateful today to have joining us:

  • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
  • President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate Phil Berger and North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore
  • State senators Deanna Ballard from Boone and Joyce (KRAVIC) from Davie and Forsyth counties
  • We have some parents here to share their stories and they will introduce themselves momentarily

Our elected officials recently championed a COVID-19 relief bill that passed with broad bi-partisan support that expanded school choice in key ways throughout our state. In “normal” times, these policy changes would be considered victories. But in times like these, when students are struggling with distance learning or not given an in-person option in their traditional public school, they’re momentous. The COVID-19 relief bill expanded and strengthened our state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides up to $4,200 a year in tuition support for low-income, working-class, tax-paying families. It also provided support for North Carolina’s two programs aimed at helping families of students with special needs—the Children with Disabilities Grant and Education Savings Account. These programs are essential now more than ever because of the pandemic crisis, and I am grateful that the leaders at this table today understood that and acted.

I’m going to make this absolutely clear: North Carolinians want school choice! And you know what—they deserve it! In fact, recent polling highlights the incredible popularity of school choice in North Carolina. A recent Civitas Institute poll showed that 69% of likely voters support the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Our own recent polling showed that 94% of parents feel more inclined to support policies expanding school choice during the coronavirus crisis. Of parents who have chosen an alternative to the traditional public school system, 96% are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their school of choice.

Times of crisis highlight cracks in the system. I would be remiss not to recognize the reality of how education and racial equality intertwine. Education, and more importantly equal access to quality education, is one of the civil rights issues of our time.

The quality of a child’s education should never depend on their parents’ income, their zip code, or their skin color. They deserve equal access to whatever school will help them succeed. That requires reforming the education system: prioritizing the needs of individual students above the needs of the system and putting parents in charge of determining the best educational environment for their child. When that becomes our goal, perhaps the tide will turn in bringing true equality into our educational system and lives will be changed.

We believe that all families should have the same opportunity because not every child will succeed in every educational setting. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen students with special needs get left behind as they struggle being behind a computer, single-parent families have been put into the impossible situation of juggling work, distance learning, and accessing childcare. The people who need the most help and support have been the ones hurt the most.

This is why we do what we do at Parents for Educational Freedom in NC. PEFNC has focused most of our efforts on the countless number of parents who want a choice for their child’s education. I am so grateful for the leadership at this table who have risen up to meet these needs. We’re grateful to have some of the parents here today who have exercised school choice share their stories, primarily as they have faced the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on with their children. They have made difficult decisions and I look forward to you hearing from them shortly.