Opinion: Daily Journal

School choice gets personal

(CJ File Photo By Kari Travis)
(CJ File Photo By Kari Travis)

Happy National School Choice Week!

Today at noon, the John Locke Foundation will host Mike Long, President of Parents For Educational Freedom in NC, to discuss the quest to empower families in North Carolina with the freedom to choose an education that best meets the needs of their child.  Rallies in Raleigh, Wilmington, and Fayetteville are among the thousands of National School Choice Week events planned by schools, communities, and organizations across the country.

National School Choice Week takes on a special significance for me this year.  The charter school that my wife and I co-founded, Carolina Charter Academy, will open its doors in August.  It is one thing to talk about school choice as a policy, concept, or an ideal.  I have done so for many years.  It’s quite another to interact with hundreds of parents who are desperate for educational options for their children.

Families who are interested in Carolina Charter Academy (or any charter school for that matter) are not shy about asking questions. As one of two volunteers who manage communications for the school, I am pleased to have the opportunity to answer them.  Corresponding with parents offers a unique insight into the various considerations that families must consider when selecting a school for their children.

We often receive questions about basic instructional and operational concerns, such as grade levels, class size, school hours, and calendar. It’s clear from the questions and comments we receive that parents want school uniforms, a technology policy that minimizes screen time, particularly for younger children, and physical education.  Families with special needs children ask about physical and educational accommodations, which charter schools are obligated to provide.  Despite claims that transportation and food service are focal concerns for parents, those who are interested in our school rarely ask about them.  If the lottery is kind enough to allow their children to attend the school, then school leaders will help families find a way to transport and feed them.

We even had a parent ask if it’s possible to secure a spot for her infant.  As much as we appreciated her enthusiasm, we were unable to accommodate the request.

Without a doubt, one of the most common questions deals with the cost to attend the school.  Too many families remain unaware that charter schools are tuition-free public schools, and I fear that it may deter them from considering a charter school for their children.  More broadly, it is indicative of the need for charter school advocates to expand their education and outreach efforts.  North Carolina charter schools may enroll nearly 110,000 students in 184 schools across the state, but the concept is still foreign to many families.

The most satisfying messages come from parents who are grateful that we are locating a charter school in a community where few educational options exist.  The following comments have been passed along to Carolina Charter Academy via email and Facebook:

  • Prayers that my girls will be able to have a chance at such an awesome opportunity.
  • We are hopeful that our daughter…can be lucky enough to join Carolina Charter Academy; and she will be able to reach her academic potential with support from both home and school.
  • I’d really love for my girls to be able to attend this school!
  • So excited for this!! I’m praying my two get in
  • Excited as well!! Praying for mine to have this wonderful opportunity!!
  • And yes, this area has needed school choice for the 11 years I’ve lived here! I hope this is just the beginning!
  • Looking forward to many more posts about y’all’s school.

Prayer.  Hope.  Potential.  Excitement.  Opportunity.  The Carolina Charter Academy board of directors, our partner TeamCFA, the town of Angier, and many others who have helped us along the way do not take these sentiments for granted.

Dr. Terry Stoops is vice president for research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.