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Guest editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times by Donald Bryson:
Strengthen the economy with school choice
Giving North Carolinians greater consumer choice through regulatory reform and lowering barriers to entry for entrepreneurs through tax reform helped our economy rocket forward in the region, outpacing our neighbors in the recession rebound. Our shrinking unemployment rate is both a cause for celebration and a reminder that we need a well-educated workforce to meet the economic opportunities of the next 10, 20 and 50 years.
By the numbers, our public school students have done OK in some areas. Overall, they’ve made no progress in fourth and eighth grade reading and math on the National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) scale between 2011 and 2013. Over a larger period between 2003 and 2013, the state scored well below the national average with only the most modest gains in reading and math.
While these numbers should be disappointing to anyone, they are particularly concerning for low-income students, whose parents are less likely to have the financial means to move to better school districts, pay for private school tuition and tutoring, or substantially invest in their child’s education after hours.
We want all children to obtain a great education, regardless of income. It’s a matter of justice for those children, and it’s crucial for our state’s long-term economic health. Our dynamic, growing economy needs well-educated men and women who are prepared for a wide variety of opportunities. With a lackluster state graduation rate of 76.9 percent, far too many students are entering the workforce unprepared to succeed and more likely to fall into dependence or worse. Each student who merely graduates from high school saves the nation on average $260,000, as a result of increased taxes on higher lifetime earnings and lower welfare and law-enforcement costs.
We can improve the future for these kids and our economy by increasing the educational options available to all students. Just as lowering barriers to entry opened the door for new businesses to meet more economic needs in the state, school choice can open opportunities for schools to innovate and meet more educational needs. North Carolina is already moving in this direction, but we must increase the choices for many more needy children.
Over the past few years lawmakers have gradually introduced more options for students by lifting the cap on charter schools, introducing the low income and special needs opportunity scholarships, and increasing transparency for student performance in public schools. North Carolina is leading a nationwide trend toward greater school choice. Across America, enrollment in private school choice programs alone has grown from 29,000 in 2001 to nearly 250,000 in 2013. As a result, thousands of students are no longer limited by income in choosing the school that is best for their child. However, tens of thousands of students in North Carolina and millions nationwide are still waiting in line for similar opportunities.
Many of these students are stuck in schools where they are not building the core skills they’ll need to succeed in our economy. This is not because our hard-working teachers are doing a bad job. Rather, it is in many cases the result of different students needing different opportunities to help them succeed. Not only do they suffer, but their future employers have a much smaller pool of talent to help run their enterprises and build our state’s economic future.
Expanded consumer choice and entrepreneurial opportunity launched North Carolina’s recent economic growth. It can do the same for our children’s future and our state’s long-term economic growth. Let’s fully embrace school choice and help all students obtain the best possible education.
The preceding editorial, written by Don Bryson, first appeared in the July 17 edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Mr. Bryson is the North Carolina State Director of Americans for Prosperity. Hyperlinks have been added within the text here for your further information and do not appear in the original article.