School Choice Week: Two Events in Raleigh, Two Very Different Narratives

Last week was National School Choice week and two education forums were held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The NC Public School Forum held their annual Eggs and Issues event while the Civitas Institute held a School Choice polling luncheon.

The messages and information presented in these two forums on school choice couldn’t be more different.

The Eggs and Issues event presented the theme that the state knows what’s best for a child whereas the Civitas event stressed that parents know better how their children work and what best suits their needs.

Eggs and Issues

The Eggs and Issues event featured an emphasis on themes such as ‘equity’, focusing on race and ‘fair share’ of resources.

A Top Ten issues list was presented in the opening segment of the event. It was said that this list would be the organizations primary focus and one can expect to see them press these issues at the General Assembly.

Parents were left out of the mix at Eggs and Issues; they were not found in the program, top ten list or in the remarks given.

One of the top ten items was ‘make teaching great again’ and was presented by Keith Poston, President and Executive Director of the NC Public Schools Forum.

Poston donned a Trump hat and made a joke about the top ten item matching the slogan of the new President:

A consistent theme was more investment in early childhood education, primarily pre-kindergarten. Current research shows little to any lasting gains from most early pre-kindergarten education programs. NC’s Smart Start and More at Four seem to be outliers to that trend, with some positive impact lingering through to third grade.

The tone towards school choice at Eggs and Issues was often negative, drawing from the narrative that vouchers, scholarships and charter schools were ‘stealing funding’ from public education.

Charter schools in North Carolina are public schools and are not funded to the same levels as their traditional counterparts. The state’s opportunity scholarships if often called a voucher program but that’s a misnomer. The opportunity scholarship program does not draw from the state education budget, but instead has its own pot of money.

Concern was expressed at Eggs and Issues that these scholarships were being mainly used for religious school tuition and that these schools were discriminatory in their acceptance practices. That’s also false. The opportunity scholarship program statutes, “provide that participating schools may not discriminate with respect to race, color, or national origin.”

James Ford, former NC Teacher of the Year and Program Director at the NC Public Schools Forum, presented the top ten list items dealing mainly with race issues, the impact of poverty on students and equity in funding for struggling schools.

Ford warned about school choice causing, “resegregation” and keeping a “strong focus on race” in the classroom because it is a “boogeyman.”

The highlight of the Eggs and Issues event was a taping of the NC Public Schools Forum show, Education Matters, with Governor Roy Cooper. Cooper endorsed the Top Ten issues list put together by the NC Public Schools Forum in the interview.

In the interview, Cooper said that he was, “willing to work across the aisle” to bring back the NC Teaching Fellows Program which was cut by former Governor Perdue when she signed the Government Reduction Act in 2011.

Cooper said about ‘vouchers’ that, “I am very concerned and have opposed vouchers because of the lack of accountability. We really don’t know what these schools are doing or how they are performing. I think instead we need to invest in our public schools.”

Cooper later added that “vouchers should not be in that list” when it comes to education funding priorities.

A mother in Wake County, who asked not to be identified, has two children enrolled in the opportunity scholarship program. She said she considered Cooper’s remarks to be, “an insult to the thousands of low-income parents” like her who are taking advantage of the opportunity scholarship program.

She also said that, “My children deserve every opportunity to be matched to a school that is the best fit for them. My husband and I are responsible for their education choices, not the state of North Carolina and we as parents hold our choice of school accountable every single day.”

Watch the full interview:

Civitas School Choice

The Civitas Institute event included polling on school choice topics and a panel discussion of various school choice advocates which was presented by Parents For Educational Freedom in NC (PFEFNC). Education NC has video of the full panel segment available for viewing.

Lt. Governor Dan Forest gave the opening remarks at the Civitas event.

The Lt. Governor stressed that the state has strong educational options for our kids and that, “parents have the opportunity to make that selection for themselves as to what best fits the needs of their child.”

The Lt. Governor recounted visiting Gateway Charter school in Greensboro for their ribbon cutting ceremony. In that recounting, the Lt. Governor said he was greeted by multiple 5th graders who were very engaged and excited to be at that school.

Afterward, he admitted he got choked up when he met the parents who came up to him with tears in their eyes and said, “our kids have never this kind of opportunity in our neighborhood” and that they’ve never had an opportunity before Gateway came along.

Watch Lt. Governor Forest’s full remarks:

Presented by Bob Luebke at the Civitas event were the results of polling conducted on various school choice topics.

The poll was conducted on January 17th and 18th by Survey USA Market Research. A total of 811 people were surveyed in the age range of 25-54. 56% of the respondents had school aged children and 73% of that number had children in traditional public schools.

One of the more telling pieces of results was the differing reasons of why their child attends a public school — the majority, 34%, said it was because they cannot afford other options.

Civitas Insitute - School Choice - Polling

One question was whether one agrees or disagrees that parents should have the ability to choose where their child goes to school and a staggering 81% of respondents agreed. 53% of that number strongly agreed and 28% simply agreed. Only 14% disagreed.

Another question asked if the legislature was doing enough to provide choice to parents and 70% of the respondents said the legislature needs to do more than they are.

Opportunity Scholarships was also a polling question and of those polled, 71% favored them and 20% were opposed with the remained falling into the ‘unsure’ category. 66% of respondents said if their child was eligible for the program that they would apply for it.

Related to education dollars, a poll question asked participants how strongly they agree that parents should be able to control how the public money allocated to their child was spent. The scale was 1-10, with 10 being very strong agreement. 78% of those responding landed between 5 and 10 on that scale.

On Charter schools, 70% favor them while only 21% opposed.

All of these answers point to one conclusion: parents in North Carolina want choice and they want more of it. These poll results highlight the stark differences in school choice messages heard at the Eggs and Issues event and from Governor Cooper.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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