CJ: School Choice Gains in 2021 General Assembly?

RALEIGH – One of the highest impact consequences of Pandemic Panic has undoubtedly been the closure of schools for in-person instruction in districts around the state. The burdens of ‘remote learning’ are leaving both students and parents mommicked and frustrated, revealing the vulnerability of leaving education choices to herd-following bureaucracies.

The remote learning experiences of students/parents range from a minor inconvenience, to very hard and trying, but the scale of the disruptions is at a societal level. It is hardly a mere matter of broadband connections. However, a silver lining of this unmistakably dark cloud is the rapid expansion of interest and investment in school choice, as parents scramble to ensure their kids’ get real life quality education. In turn, this stands to loosen the public education lobby’s grip on how we educate kids.

Carolina Journal’s David N. Bass sees this silver lining, and is looking out for legislative action in the new General Assembly that could help reinforce a pivot to freedom in education sorely needed in a post-Pandemic Panic world. It just so happens that next week when lawmakers return is also National School Choice week.

From Bass:

“[…] School-choice advocates are coming off what turned out to be a breakout year for their cause, as millions of parents nationwide fled their locally zoned school option for alternatives. Here in North Carolina, around 381,000 students are enrolled in schools of choice, including 150,000 in home schools, 127,000 in public charters, and 104,000 in private schools.

Some lawmakers are hopeful that renewed calls for civility and bipartisanship will translate to less rancor over issues like school choice in the new session. 

“Leaders on both sides of the aisle know how devastating the last year has been on our students and bipartisan discussions have already been taking place to determine how we get students back in the classroom where they belong,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.

“We need to listen to each other,” Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, the Democrats’ new leader in the House, told Carolina Journal. “Several educational approaches can exist at once in our state — they always have. We need to understand that. We have a constitutional duty to public education, but we need to explore every option for greater innovation in order to serve all of our students.”

A rare example of bipartisan agreement came in September when state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a COVID-19 relief package that strengthened several parts of the state’s school-choice apparatus. […]”

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That bipartisan boost to school choice came with no thanks to Governor Roy Cooper, who has long fought policies like Opportunity Scholarships tooth and nail. Still, that program was expanded in the emergency spending packages. Cooper can be relied upon to wage such a nonsensical fight again if state lawmakers continue to push expansion of school choice measures.

And Democrats are already on the old saw of increased teacher pay and rural broadband. The latter is a bipartisan policy, but we’re guessing parents/voters will want to see their public school children actually back in school before they get excited about teacher pay raises.

Ask a working parent of a public school remote learning first grader whether a pay raise for little Johnny’s teacher is a priority for them right now. You can guess what they might say, and that should tell Jones Street where their priorities should be in taking on this new session.

Read more on the issue at Carolina Journal.

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