Majority Support School Choice

Overwhelming majorities of likely voters in North Carolina support the concept of school choice, according to recent polls commissioned by the Carolina Leadership Coalition. That support extends across nearly all racial, political, ideological, and socio-economic ranges and among demographic groups.

School choice allows parents to use a portion of the expenditure associated with their child’s K-12 education to enroll in a participating non-public school that best serves their child’s needs. President Donald Trump called school choice the “civil rights issue of our time.”

Likely voters in the Coastal Region, the Triad Region, and the region East of Charlotte supported school choice by 75.3%. In this first cohort, support for school choice among racial minority groups is particularly strong, with an average of 78.6% supporting it. 79.5% of all survey respondents in this group who reported annual income of less than $50,000 support the concept of school choice.

Likely voters in the Mountain Region supported school choice by a lower margin, at 66.2%. The average support among racial minority groups for school choice mirrors this rate (at 65.4%), as does the rate of those reporting an annual income of less than $50,000 (at 67.7%).

In North Carolina, school choice takes the form of the income-based  “Opportunity Scholarship” program, which provides tuition assistance of up to a  $4,200 voucher per year for students to enroll in a participating non-public school. In the 2019-2020 school year, 12,183 vouchers were awarded by the state’s Education Assistance Authority.

First enacted in 2014 after a conservative majority was elected to the state legislature, Opportunity Scholarships have proven highly popular with North Carolina’s families. Demand for the program has consistently been far greater than the number of scholarships available.

Since its inception, the program has been plagued with legal challenges, primarily from the NC Association of Educators. In 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court opinion and declared that the Opportunity Scholarship program was, in fact, constitutional.

Over the course of the last five years, the legislature has appropriated more money to the program, despite opposition from liberal groups and the governor’s office. This year’s $1 billion COVID-19 relief package grew the program even further, which Governor Cooper signed into law.

The Wall Street Journal praised this recent expansion, calling it a victory for North Carolina’s students. “The victory is all the more significant because the state’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, came into office vowing to eliminate the program.”

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