N.C. Democrats criticize school choice, saying it’s “not practical”

NC Sen. Dan Blue (D) representing district 14 wake

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  • Polling shows that nearly three-in-four North Carolinians support school choice.
  • The state’s public school teacher attrition rate stood at 8.2% for the 2020-21 school year, a jump from 2019-20 when it was 7.5% but a decline from 2015-16 when it was 9%.

A press conference advertised as focusing on principal pay and a shortage of well-qualified teachers was used by Democratic lawmakers to criticize school choice.

The position puts Democrats at odds with a solid majority of North Carolinians, who support the concept of school choice according to polling this spring that found 72% of voters support school choice, including 68% of Democrats.

“The Republican leadership does not want to solve the problem [of the teacher shortage],” said N.C. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake. “They talk a lot about school choice, but they’re creating a false choice by starving our public schools while planning to give $3.1 billion to for-profit private schools over the next 15 years. School choice is a fine idea, and I support it, but it’s not practical given the current state of education in North Carolina.”

“Sen. Blue’s attempt to blame staffing challenges on school choice is comically far-fetched and ultimately a losing strategy for a state whose citizenry largely embraces educational options,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. 

“Clearly, Sen. Blue is out of touch with the average Democratic voter and North Carolinians generally,” Stoops continued. “Polls confirm that support for school choice crosses ideologies and political affiliations. For example, the January 2022 Civitas Poll found that nearly 57% of Democratic voters support the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher program for low-income children criticized by Sen. Blue.”

Blue said there has been a 48% increase in public school job vacancies. Today, there are more than 11,297 teacher and staff vacancies across the state, according to a survey from the N.C. School Superintendents Association.

“Educators are over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated,” Blue said.

“We’re sitting on billions of dollars of reserves while students are going back to classrooms without teachers and other essential employees,” said House Minority Leader Richard Reeves, D-Chatham.

In addition to the teacher shortage, Democrats pointed to principal pay. Reeves acknowledged the plan from Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt to use federal relief dollars to bridge the pay gap some principals will be facing, but he called it a “temporary solution to a serious policy problem.”

Democrats struggled to answer the question of how substantially raising teacher pay would make a dent in vacancies, considering  industries across the U.S. are facing significant labor shortages. They also came up short on answers to their legislative agenda to solve the problem.

“Part of this is bringing this to the attention of the public, and the public puts the pressure on,” Reeves said.