Policy Makers

For immediate help email PEFNC's Policy Specialist at alex@pefnc.org

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 three state-sponsored private school choice programs. In fact, nearly 320,000 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: 1,454,290 students LEARN MORE
  • Public charter school enrollment: 90,393 students LEARN MORE
  • Private school enrollment: 100,585 students LEARN MORE
  • Home school enrollment: 128,268 students 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 three private school choice scholarships that help working-class families succeed in the Tar Heel State. No other state has created more NEW educational choice programs than North Carolina, which now offers a pair of scholarships for families with students with special needs, plus a scholarship that empowers low-income and minority families to send their child to the private school of their choice.

By comparison:

  • Our state spends roughly $11.8B to educate children in traditional public schools.
  • North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program will cost our state $45M this year (2018-2019), the Disabilities Grant will be nearly $13M and the new Special Needs ESA only $3M.

North Carolina’s State-Sponsored Scholarships:

  • The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides low-income and working-class families with up to $4,200 for tuition at a private school. This fall (2018), nearly 11,000 students will benefit from an Opportunity Scholarship, which levels the playing field for families who feel trapped in a school system that isn’t working for them. Furthermore, our state has stepped up by forward-funding Opportunity Scholarships for the next 10 years, ensuring this program will only grow and help more families and students. Since the program’s inception in 2013, families have submitted more than 45,000 applications from all 100 counties. While it costs (based on the most up to date available date from DPI) roughly $8,300 to educate a child in traditional public school, the Opportunity Scholarship offsets that cost at only $4,200 to the state.
  • North Carolina’s first state-sponsored scholarship was the Children with Disabilities Grant, established in 2011. The Disabilities Grant provides families with up to $8,000 for tuition for their student with special needs to attend the private school of their choice. Just this year, the General Assembly added an additional $3 million to the program, which will help 375 new families access the scholarship. This fall, over 1,500 students should benefit from a Disabilities Grant.
  • On education innovation, you need look no further than North Carolina’s new Special Needs Education Savings Accounts. The ESA provides a family with up to $9,000 to use for educational services for their student with special needs—not just tuition but other costs associated with educating their child as well. And, unique to our state, families can stack the ESA on top of both other private school choice scholarships, meaning a family with a student with special needs could access up to $21,200 to educate their child. We know that it often costs that much to ensure a student with special needs receives the quality education that he or she deserves.

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.

Hear from Families Benefiting from Parental School Choice in our State: