For the last month, the North Carolina legislature has been debating whether to create a scholarship program to help low-income families pay the tuition and fees at qualified K-12 private schools. Since this proposal closely parallels Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, I’ve traveled to Raleigh three times in recent weeks to discuss what we’ve learned in Florida about school choice over the last 10 years and how these lessons might apply to the North Carolina program.
Below are the lessons learned I’ve shared with supporters and opponents:
- All parents want to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. This is not a political or ideological decision for parents. They just want to do what’s best for their children.
- Low-income parents have fewer schooling options than more affluent parents. Scholarships provide low-income families with more options. Scholarships don’t level the playing field, but they move us toward greater equality of opportunity for disadvantaged children.
- Low-income parents don’t have a bias for or against neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools or private schools. Their schooling decisions are pragmatic. They just want access to schools that work for their children.
- Every child and every school is different. Schools that work great for some children fail others. The challenge for parents is matching each child with the school that works best for him or her.
- Children and schools are constantly changing. A school that works for a child one year may not work for this child the next year. When the relationship between a child and a school is no longer successful, low-income parents with scholarships find another school. Low-income parents without scholarships don’t have this option.