RALEIGH – In my continuing mission to impress upon North Carolina readers that parental choice in education is both desirable and practical, here are some numbers to keep in mind:
• During the 2008-09 school year, some 1.4 million children attended one of the country’s 4,700+ charter schools. These are independent schools governed by nonprofit boards and making their own management decisions, but receiving taxpayer funds and charging no tuition.
• A dozen communities around the country have more than 20 percent of their children enrolled in charter schools. Another 64 communities have at least 10 percent charter-school enrollment.
• In North Carolina, about 35,000 students attend one of the state’s charter schools. There is a statewide cap of 100 charter schools, though attrition has allowed for a small number of new charters to be issued in recent years.
• About 99,000 North Carolina children attend one of the 683 private schools registered by the state. Another 77,000 North Carolina children attend home schools registered by the state.
• Therefore, the combined statewide enrollment of these three choice options – charter, private, and home schools – exceeded 210,000 in 2008-09, while district-run public schools enrolled 1.4 million. Keep in mind that, because some district-run public schools are magnets, virtual, or enroll students based on predictable neighborhood assignment zones, it is likely that far more than 13 percent of North Carolina students attend schools chosen by their parents – though these choices are far too constricted, and too dependent on parents having sufficient household income to move close to a desired school.
• According to research conducted by the John Locke Foundation’s Terry Stoops, the average private-school tuition in North Carolina in 2008-09 was $4,889 for elementary school, $5,410 for middle school, and $5,916 for high school. The average North Carolina charter school spent about $8,300 per student in 2008-09. The average district-run public school in North Carolina spent about $9,500 in 2008-09.
• Prep schools do tend to cost far more than the private-school average, sometimes in the low five-figures. But they make up only a small share of private schools and enrollment. The vast majority of NC private schools are small Christian institutions, many affiliated with churches and located on their grounds.
• Boarding schools, like Hogwarts, cost far more, of course. By the way, Hogwarts is either a charter school or a private school partially funded with tax dollars.
• Students at NC charter schools now outperform district-run schools on state tests. Some charter schools post even more spectacular results, and ought to be allowed to expand and replicate themselves in other counties.
• School choice has long been a popular cause, as long as pollsters ask straightforward questions about it. For example, a December 2009 poll by the Civitas Institute asked, “Do you support or oppose giving parents vouchers to attend any school they choose?” The sample favored the policy by 67 percent to 23 percent. Other questions on past Civitas and JLF polls found substantial majorities in favor of lifting the charter school cap, making educational savings and tuition tax-deductible, and offering tax credits to families opting for private or home schools. Generally speaking, black and Hispanic respondents favor school choice at substantially higher rates than white respondents do.
• Across the country, some 171,000 children benefit from one of 18 different voucher or tax-credit programs across 10 states. The five states with the highest enrollments in such school-choice programs are Pennsylvania (44,000 students), Florida (42,000), Arizona (30,000), Wisconsin (20,000), and Ohio (16,000).
• Because private and home schools cost substantially less to operate that district-run public schools, even tax-funded voucher or tax-credit programs end up saving rather than consuming taxpayers’ money. States have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars by implementing vouchers or tax credits. Just in 2009 alone, Florida’s voucher program saved taxpayers $40 million.
• Most OECD countries whose high-school students outperform American students on independent tests allow greater parental choice among public and private schools than the U.S. does. In the Netherlands, Belgium, and Chile, most students take their government funds with them to enroll in private high schools. About half of British and Korean students, one-third of French and Japanese students, and one-quarter of New Zealand and Australian students enroll in private high schools, as well.
If these states and countries can offer real school choice, North Carolina can do it, too – and should do it, as soon as possible.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation