School choice bill passes the test in North Carolina | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

School choice bill passes the test in North Carolina


WORLD Radio - School choice bill passes the test in North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper chooses not to veto the legislature’s plan to expand the state’s universal education savings account program

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper Associated Press/Photo by Gary D. Robertson

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 3rd day of October, 2023.

You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we’re glad you’re along with us today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

First up, a legislative win for school choice. North Carolina students can now access a universal education savings account program.

At the end of September, state legislators passed a budget bill that included the program, and Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the bill to become law without signing it.

Some experts think North Carolina’s program could be one of the biggest in the country … and other states are taking notice. Like Texas which is having a special legislative session on school choice this month. They join a growing number of states expanding school choice for families.

REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about the state of school choice in America is Amber Northern. She’s the senior vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Amber, good morning.

AMBER NORTHERN: Good morning. Nice to be here, Mary.

REICHARD: What is significant about the timing and circumstances of North Carolina’s new school choice program?

NORTHERN: I think that they listened to their constituents and the and the families who live in North Carolina. There had been a pretty overwhelming response, they used to have a smaller program, and there was a waiting list and parents were very excited about this program. And basically, they listened and they extended the program basically tripled the funding. And I think that overall, it's been well received. Well, obviously, we'll get into the debates around, you know, the for and against, but what's significant to me is yes, that that North Carolina actually did something that Texas has not been able to do, which Texas is supposed to be the, you know, the redder state. But but North Carolina took its cues and expanded a popular program

REICHARD: When Gov. Cooper in North Carolina announced he would not veto the budget bill, he said the school choice provision, and I’ll quote him here, “seriously shortchanges” North Carolina schools. What does he mean by that, and is his concern reasonable?

NORTHERN: I think there's a misunderstanding that school systems are set up to benefit adults. And in this case, they're not. I mean, they're supposed to be serving students. And so if you think that you're robbing public schools to give money to private schools, then you know, that's where you say, oh, it's shortchanges students. But if you think that, you know, parents should be able to spend what's public money delegated to their child, how they, you know, would like to spend it, then you're you don't see it as a short change. And what I've seen other folks make a very good point is that we already have a good model with this with Pell Grants. I mean, Pell Grants, families, students are allowed to take those federal monies, to any public or private school that they'd like to use the money. Same for Headstart in the pre-k space. I mean, when you get a Headstart Grant, you're able to use that for a private or a public program. So it's not as if we don't have precedent here with these types of programs. And what's good about the North Carolina model is It's means-tested. So, you know, although all families can apply, you're gonna get a lot less if you're a wealthy family versus if you're not.

REICHARD: What arguments did parents and advocates make to lawmakers that compelled them to get this legislation done in North Carolina? What worked?

NORTHERN: You know, one argument that stands the test of time is when a child is, quote, "trapped in a failing school," you know, we know that there are many schools year after year after year after year that have gotten miserable ratings in the state accountability systems, that kids year after year or or can't read at a third grade level, can't can't do basic mathematics, and yet the schools remain open. And so if a school is not serving a child well, and you've got a poor family that their only option is to go to their zone school, then that's, that's not a very good argument to say, "Hey, you're forced to stay there, because you're not a family of means. And we're not going to give you any choices." And so that was a winning argument to say, you know, what a lot of folks with with more money can obviously, including many of these Democratic legislators, and that was a hypocrisy of that was brought up. You don't want these vouchers, but yet your own child's going to bribe its goal, that the optics on that look pretty bad. So the fact that these kids actually have an option, just like middle and upper class families do is a winning argument.

REICHARD: Final question here, Amber, what are some blindspots or challenges within the wider school choice movement?

NORTHERN: I think funding, that's the one that always always comes up. There's a misconception that charter schools are public schools. And, and they are public schools. And they have you know, that basically, the grand bargain is if you're a charter school, you get more autonomy in exchange for more accountability. So the idea that if you don't do well, you know, three to five years down the line, you can be closed, and we do see charter schools being closed. And that's one I mean, that's one big challenge. You know, if if we say that we actually do need to close these schools, so we keep up our end of the bargain in terms of an innovation that didn't work out. That's one challenge is just keeping up with the grand bargain and the other is getting the funding sometimes a state might institute a voucher or program, but funded at a very low level where it's really not going to cover the entire cost of tuition at a private school. So those are just a couple. Politics are a huge battle always as we see in North Carolina and Texas where folks really dig their heels in, you know, and they think public education is being eroded. Or you know, they are the opposite where they absolutely think why can't kids have choices? This is crazy that we wouldn't give them their families choices. So there will always be politics around. But it's fascinating when things break through, we see agreement and these choice policies get implemented. And then and then we get to see how they do and evaluate them down the road.

REICHARD: Amber Northern is senior vice president of research for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Amber, thank you for joining us!

NORTHERN: Thank you!

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...