School choice advocates thought it couldn’t get any better than the successes and growth of the movement in 2022. But then 2023 came along.

Both in North Carolina and across the nation, 2023 was a banner year for school choice. On the legislative front in the Tar Heel State, lawmakers approved a massive expansion of the state’s school voucher, the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The program enables families to choose a private school education for their children. Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, Opportunity Scholarships will be available for all families in a tiered system based on income. The program will be funded at $520 million by the start of the 2032-2033 fiscal year.

Lawmakers also reduced the red tape surrounding the authorization of new public charter schools. The move reflected increased demand for charter schools, with an estimated 77,000 students on waitlists.

“These changes were in response to growing concern that parents want not only greater control over the education of their children, but more educational options,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “If you don’t believe this, simply look at the numbers.”

School choice growth

In October, the NC Department of Public Instruction released figures showing that traditional public school enrollments are down 3.6% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, losing 0.4% from last year alone. Charter school enrollments, meanwhile, are up 4.9% from last year and up nearly 25% since 2019.

State figures released in August show that enrollments in private schools grew by 10% during the 2022-2023 school year — to the tune of 11,457 students — the largest jump in enrollments since the early 1970s.

Nationwide, home education has grown by 51% since 2018, while private education increased 7% during the same period. Public school enrollments declined by 4%. That’s according to an analysis by the Washington Post.

As the Reason Foundation points out, the same analysis concluded that homeschooling grew much more racially and politically diverse during this period.

“[H]omeschool students were three-quarters white in 2019. By summer 2023, less than half were white. Homeschool parents are now roughly evenly split between conservatives and liberals, while those homeschooling before the pandemic overwhelmingly identified as Republicans.”

Other changes in education

School choice wasn’t the only area where advancements were made in NC. Lawmakers also passed several additional educated-related measures:

  • Parents Bill of Rights: Republican sponsors of this new law say it is necessary to protect children and ensure that parents have knowledge about what their kids are being taught in public schools. The need arose after numerous reports of sexually explicit books and instruction in elementary school classrooms. The most controversial part of the bill bans curriculum that deals with gender identity and sexual orientation until after the fourth grade. School districts have until January to meet the requirements under the new law.
  • Computer science requirement: Lawmakers also passed a bill that requires the State Board of Education to include instruction in computer science for middle- and high-school students in the requirements to graduate.
  • Career development plans: A new law requires public school students to complete a career development plan by the end of the seventh grade, and the plan must be revised by the end of 10th grade.