According to the National School Choice Awareness Foundation (NSCAF), more Americans googled “school choice” during National School Choice Week in January 2023 than during any other time over the prior six years.

This should come as no surprise to North Carolinians. Since January 2023, our state legislature has made major expansion possible in both charter school legislation and school choice legislation — specifically, school vouchers.

Families are looking for options, and impeding or denying those options will not make parents any less anxious to take a peek into what their children’s futures could look like when taking different educational paths.

According to a News & Observer article from Feb. 5, 2024, by T. Keung Hui, North Carolina parents are breaking records in applying for the Opportunity Scholarship — the state’s private school voucher lottery.

Hui reported that Opportunity Scholarship applications submitted during the first five days of the process this February totaled more than what was submitted during the entire month of February 2023.

What does this mean for North Carolina and, specifically, charter schools? Opinions differ, and results cannot yet be quantified. Some see it as a chance for charter schools to step up their game in an increasingly competitive market.

“I do feel that school choice is becoming the norm,” Ryan Henderson, 2023 North Carolina Burroughs Wellcome Fund Charter School Teacher of the Year, told NC Association for Public Charter Schools. “For North Carolina in particular, I do believe the rise of school choice will have a major impact on the state. With the use of private schools and the expansion of vouchers, charter schools may have to rethink a lot of things. And how this will unfold we shall see. I can’t really predict what will happen, but I know a lot of antennas have gone up.”

A January 2024 nationwide survey from the NSCAF  found that the number of American parents who had taken school choice steps — considering a new school, searching for a new school, and choosing a new school – soared this January, with 72% of parents reporting that they had at least contemplated new schooling options. This is in comparison to only 54% of parents saying the same in 2023. On that same note, only 29% of multi-child parents surveyed say that the same educational model works well for all children in their household.

“I am always going to come down on the side that the parent is the best person to choose what is right for the child, because no one cares more about that child than that child’s parent,” said North Carolina Superintendent of Public Education Catherine Truitt at a Charter School Celebration luncheon hosted by the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools in Raleigh during School Choice Week this January. 

In the December 2023 Publication, “Believing in Public Education: A Demographic and State-level Analysis of Pubic Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends,” co-Authors Drew Jacobs and Debbie Veney of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools make the data-backed assertion that, nationwide, the charter sector is the only piece of public education that is experiencing continued growth in a post-pandemic world. 

According to the report, many families are simply departing from public education. Jacobs and Veney believe that charter schools can play a vital role in getting families back and restoring their faith in public education. 

Jacobs and Veney concur that charter school enrollment growth does not offer a holistic explanation of where students are going when their families choose not to enroll them in traditional district schools. Because of this, the charter school sector is closely watching states that adopted universal education savings accounts (ESAs) for an idea of what might be on the horizon. 

In two exemplary states with high charter enrollment rates — Arizona and Florida — data points to the fact that overall demand for charters has not declined with the advent of expanding school choice options.

“It appears that having more choices is working for parents,” reported Jacobs and Veney, “and there is enough room for all types of choice.”