School choice week is upon us once again. Groups of lawmakers, advocates, and school leaders will praise General Assembly leadership for dramatically expanding school choice over the past decade. They will thank legislative leaders for increasing the number of charter schools and creating voucher programs that now give families earning over $100,000 per year over $5,500 for private school tuition.
Their praise will focus on the increasing number of students receiving vouchers and attending charter schools. They will celebrate the fact that the number of students in traditional, inclusive public schools has fallen since 2016, while the number of students attending charter schools or receiving vouchers has shot up. Over this period, traditional public school enrollment has fallen by 62,579 students, while charter enrollments have increased by 73,694. An additional 23,200 students are receiving vouchers since 2016.
While these enrollment changes will be lauded, astute observers will notice something important: little attention, if any, will be given to how these students are faring in their nontraditional school settings. That’s no accident, as traditional, inclusive public schools continue to outperform charter and voucher schools.
North Carolina’s traditional inclusive public schools are doing better than schools in the charter sector when it comes to bouncing back from the effects of the pandemic. This is the continuation of a trend. Traditional public schools in North Carolina continue to provide larger annual academic gains for their students than charter schools. In the most recent year, 71 percent of traditional public schools met or exceeded growth expectations, compared to just 63 percent of charter schools.
No such comparisons exist between traditional public school students and voucher students. This is by design. Legislative leaders have rejected efforts to examine whether voucher students are better off academically after leaving the traditional, inclusive public school system. Most likely, they don’t want to know just how bad it is. Read more