Parental school choice represents a simple but powerful idea: parents should be empowered to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, regardless of their address or income. Parents might decide that a traditional public school, a public charter school, a private school, or even a home school is the best educational environment for their child. But the bottom line is that they, not someone else, get to make this choice.
North Carolina offers parents a range of traditional and non-traditional schooling options as well as two state-sponsored private school choice programs. In fact, over 412,000 students in North Carolina now attend non-traditional schools – either through public charter schools, private schools, or home schools.
Here’s a look at the current K-12 landscape in North Carolina, by the numbers:
- Public school enrollment: Over 1.3 million students LEARN MORE
- Public charter school enrollment: Over 140,000 students LEARN MORE
- Private school enrollment: Over 126,000 students LEARN MORE
- Home school enrollment: Over 152,000 students in over 94,000 home schools LEARN MORE
*Source: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), NCDPI Office of Charter Schools, and North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education
North Carolina leads on education thanks to leaders in our General Assembly who have:
- Raised teacher pay by 19% since 2013 resulting in average salaries hitting $50,000 for the first time in state history.
- The General Assembly also increased funding for public education by nearly $700M while providing $35M for school safety initiatives.
- Eliminated the cap on public charter schools creating a climate that welcomes innovative school models and parental choice through expanded charter options.
- Adopted an A-F grading system for public schools that increases transparency and expands information available to parents and families.
- Implemented Read to Achieve to ensure that students read proficiently by the 4th grade.
- Created the NC Promise Tuition Program making college more affordable at a trio of universities across our state.
- Created the NC Teaching Fellows Program to attract and retain new teachers in STEM fields and in low-performing schools.
- Reduced class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
- Established two private school choice scholarships that help families succeed in the Tar Heel State, one that is open to all K12 students in our state and one that specifically supports students with special needs.
- Our state spends roughly $11.8B to educate children in traditional public schools.
- North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program has funded $133M in student scholarships (2022-23) and the ESA+ program has funded $37M in scholarships (2022-23).
North Carolina’s State-Sponsored Scholarships:
- The Opportunity Scholarship program was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. Scholarships are awarded based on a family’s household income and can be used to pay the required tuition and fees to attend an eligible private school. This fall (2024) approximately 50,000 students will benefit from an Opportunity Scholarship. Furthermore, our state has stepped up by forward-funding Opportunity Scholarships, ensuring this program will only grow and help more families and students. Since the program’s inception in 2013, families have submitted approximately 150,000 applications from all 100 counties.
- North Carolina’s first state-sponsored scholarship was the Children with Disabilities Grant, established in 2011. Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, it merged with the Special Needs Education Savings Account to create a new program: Education Student Accounts, or ESA+. The ESA+ program provides a family $9,000-$17,000 to use for educational services for their student with special needs—not just tuition but other costs associated with educating their child as well. Families can stack the ESA+ with an Opportunity Scholarship, meaning a family with a student with special needs could access up to $24,000 to educate their child. Ensuring a student with special needs receives the quality education that he or she deserves is costly.
A Constitutional Right:
Some final food-for-thought: North Carolina’s constitution guarantees all children in our state a fundamental right to the “opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” Missing from that is a “where.” The “where” pales in comparison to the “how” and “who.” By empowering parents with a choice in their child’s education, we prioritize supporting families and students rather than systems. By focusing on the “how” and “who,” we have a chance to bring these three critical components to the forefront: a motivated teacher, a child who wants to learn (and all do, it’s in their DNA), and empowered and engaged parents. That is the recipe for educational success, regardless of the setting.
Lawsuits Facing the Opportunity Scholarship Program
Shortly after the Opportunity Scholarship Program was established, a lawsuit was filed challenging its constitutionality. The program was interrupted when it faced an injunction and students were left in limbo, unsure if the program would continue. Ultimately, in July 2015, the Opportunity Scholarship Program was deemed constitutional.
Governor Cooper filed a lawsuit in 2017 challenging the legislature’s decision to forward fund the Opportunity Scholarship Program. PEFNC submitted an amicus brief and affidavit in support of the funding structure. Governor Cooper’s attempt to hinder the program was unsuccessful.
In 2020, a second lawsuit was filed by the NC Association of Educators, challenging the implementation of the program. After facing a blow during hearings on procedural issues with the case, the plaintiffs chose to drop the lawsuit.
Hear from Families Benefiting from Parental School Choice in our State: