This week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a “state of emergency” and has threatened to veto a school choice bill recently passed by the General Assembly.
According to Cooper, “We can’t let the legislature tear our public schools down.”
So, is Cooper’s assessment of the “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future” Act accurate?
In a word, no.
In reality, school choice would not necessarily harm the existing public school system in North Carolina. If anything, injecting school choice into the Tar Heel State would likely result in public schools bettering themselves due to increased competition.
Under the current system, North Carolina spends on average about $12,000 per student, which is funneled directly to the public schools.
Under the proposed bill, education funding would be rerouted to North Carolina families, so that they can choose the school that best deserves their education dollars.
For several decades, North Carolina’s public schools have had little competition while automatically receiving large sums of money directly from the state government. This has led to a sclerotic state, in which North Carolina’s public schools lack basic accountability for the quality of education (or lack thereof) that they are providing.
For example, only 25 percent of eighth graders in the state are “proficient” in mathematics; only 26 percent are “proficient” in reading.
Unfortunately, this has disproportionately affected North Carolina’s most vulnerable populations, primarily lower-income families. This is the case simply because most North Carolinians cannot afford to send their children to private schools even when their local public schools are failing to meet basic education standards.
An easy remedy to this woeful situation is to offer these families the opportunity to send their children to any school, public or private, that best meets their needs.
Ironically, Gov. Cooper has chosen to send his kids to private schools, utilizing his ability to exercise school choice purely because he has the financial means to do so. At the same time, Cooper is actively opposing the “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future” bill, which would grant the same education choice to all North Carolina families, regardless of household income.
Cooper’s opposition is predicated on the myth that school choice is a zero-sum game whereby public schools will be harmed by the “inevitable” drop in attendance. This is not necessarily “inevitable,” because if public schools were sufficiently educating students, parents would not have to seek other options.
Such is why school choice is a win-win for both the schools themselves and the children who attend them. However, school choice is not a win for public teacher unions and education bureaucrats, who have not been held accountable.
For far too long, public school teachers and education professionals have become complacent and comfortable under the status quo system, which lacks incentives for education innovation and serves as a job protection racket.
Fortunately, the General Assembly has made it clear that it intends to override Cooper’s veto, ensuring that more North Carolina families will have access to school choice.
What’s more, education choice is one of the few issues that is wildly popular among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; all races, and all income levels.
It seems that it would behoove Cooper to switch his stance on the pending bill, considering that his constituents overwhelmingly support education choice.
If Cooper is not careful, he could face an actual state of emergency come the next election.
Kate Venis ([email protected]) is an editorial intern with The Heartland Institute. Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is editorial director at The Heartland Institute.