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What's At Stake for School Choice

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
The Truth Network Radio
October 19, 2020 9:28 am

What's At Stake for School Choice

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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October 19, 2020 9:28 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Mike Long from PEFNC to discuss what is at stake for school choice in our state, and how the pandemic has impacted education and the school choice movement.

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Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation.

And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. A lot is at stake this election season. Over the past few weeks on this show, we've focused on the most important issues and areas of public policy that voters are considering. Well, today we're looking at education policy, specifically school choice here in North Carolina. We know there is a concerted effort by some to drastically cut back the great progress we've made on school choice in our state. Mike Long is out front helping to lead the fight as President of Parents for Educational Freedom, the preeminent school choice advocacy organization here in our state. Mike is a longtime friend of NC Family, and we're grateful to have him back on the program today. Mike Long, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.

It's always great to speak with you. So how school choice friendly is North Carolina compared to other states, and how do we get to be that way? Well, I think fewer states are more school choice friendly than North Carolina.

We've done a lot, especially since 2011. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a state that has done more for school choice than the Tar Heel State. We eliminated the cap on public charter schools. We created a pair of really incredible private school scholarship programs for students with special needs and also those of low income.

Both, by the way, just received important resources in a COVID relief package passed by the General Assembly. But we have the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which last year helped over 12,000 children from these low-income families across our state. And now they're able to access the school of their parents' choice. We've also embraced a homeschool boom that has really taken place in our state. So school choice is no longer a trend in North Carolina. We've got more than 20% of our students across the state that are choosing these more non-traditional educational opportunities. And we've just been the leader in that for many, many years.

So hard pressed to find a state that's done more. Cares for Educational Freedom recently hosts U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. So tell us why she was here and what were the goals and outcomes of her visit?

Well, she recognizes North Carolina as a leader in school choice. And she joined us for a roundtable discussion along with Lieutenant Governor Dan Forrest. But we also had President Pro Tem of the Smithfield Burger here with us. We had Joseph Kaiser from Speaker Tim Moore's office joined us.

And also Senators Joyce Kravik and Senators Deanna Ballard. But more importantly for this, Tracy, we had three North Carolina parents with us. And the goal of the meeting was for Secretary DeVos to hear directly from these parents about how their children's education was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And the parents on the panel all had very different stories. But the common thread is that they know what their children need educationally.

And to be sure, they've always known, but the pandemic has highlighted this tenfold. Give you an example, immediate outcome to our visit and what the parents said and what she heard. One mom spoke of her daughter's anxiety and depression accelerating because of her lack of peer interaction and distance learning.

And another spoke of her nine-year-old daughter with special needs who cannot physically sit in front of a computer for hours of remote learning. You know, how often do parents get to share these challenges and struggles that they're facing with a member of the Federal Cabinet who actually believes that they know their children's needs best? So, outcomes in politics don't always come easily and they rarely come quickly, but having someone like Secretary DeVos in her position will make all students regardless of what educational option their parents have chosen a priority.

You know, Betsy DeVos gets a lot of flack in the mainstream media, but it sounds like you really like her. Well, because of what I just described, you know, it is putting children, students, families first, not educational systems. You know, a lot of people think in what we do that we're not for the public school system.

We are. We are for public schools. We want public schools to be better.

We just do not think that systems need to be prioritized here. We think that parents and families need to have the priority for them to make the choice of what's best for them. If it's the public school, great. If it's the public charter school, great. If it's a private school, great. If it's a home school, great.

If it's virtual learning, great. We're just saying parents need to make that choice. And so, we're not trying to get rid of a system. We're trying to reform the system so that it just better meets the needs of families. Well, you mentioned the great impact that the pandemic has had on our educational system in the past year or so.

So, talk about that. What has been the impact of this shift to mostly distance learning because of the pandemic? Really, the interest of parents is the most noteworthy part of this because they need options. You know, with schools closed and all of this going on, they need options.

And so, we have been able to provide them many options by the work done here in the state of North Carolina. I mean, just look at the Opportunity Scholarship Program. You know, in September, there were over 15,000 new applications submitted for the program. There was funding for the 2021 school year for about 2,400 new seats. And again, you know, 15,000 new applications for 2,400 seats.

I think that gives you an idea of what's happened because of the pandemic. Parents are looking for these options, so the numbers speak for themselves to the demand for more options. And so, you know, our phones here at PF&C, they've been ringing off the hook, you know, with parents who are looking for what their options might be because distance learning is just simply not working for their child. And, you know, the most heartbreaking of calls are from the parents whose children have special needs.

Like, just take recently the School of Hope in Fayetteville that serves students with autism. I got a call and they were telling me that, you know, when their school closed in March, their principal would have loved to follow suit with, you know, what other schools were doing. And like, you know, having a car parade by the school so the students could see their teachers and see each other.

And if anything, just to wave and say, we miss you. But they couldn't do that because they didn't want to confuse and upset their children, you know, who may not understand why they can't come to school. And these same students often have, you know, sensory processing disorders and the texture and feeling of a mask makes wearing one impossible. And, you know, some students weren't able to continue their therapy, some of which are absolutely essential to helping them function daily.

And I haven't even mentioned the academics yet. So just imagine how difficult it's been for these students and these families and how far behind they can fall on so many different levels. So gratefully, you know, some of the relief for these families came with an additional six million dollars in the COVID relief bill just passed by the General Assembly. This was championed by Senator Joyce Krabick. And other changes have made the you know, to remove the red tape so that the opportunity scholarship can help parents that are on a waiting list, K through one, you know, to get these funds. And that was championed by Senator Deanna Ballard. So the demand is there. And luckily, the COVID relief bill is an incredible step in meeting that demand at a time when it's needed the most. So you're referring to some in-person options for these students, right?

That is correct. And just expanding all of the school choice options for them. It just doesn't make sense at all to take away options in a time like this, which some of our political leaders want to do. And so you're suggesting, right, that there are ways to do in-person instruction safely, especially for this most needy population. There's no doubt about it. Many of our private schools throughout the state are already doing that.

They have been meeting and meeting successfully without any issues whatsoever. This is another reason why you've seen the home school just boom in our state. But our parents need more help. You know, they need these options in order to free them.

Think about working parents, you know, and yet they have to stay home with their children because their school is closed up the road. They need help. And that's why further expanding school choice options, especially during the COVID pandemic, is absolutely necessary.

OK. So, of course, this is a focal point in the campaign for governor in North Carolina. Talk about the Opportunity Scholarship Program and why do you think the current governor is so anxious to do away with that? The Opportunity Scholarship Program is a program that provides $4,200 for students from low-income and working-class households to attend a private school of their parents' choice.

So to see it as a focal point of this gubernatorial campaign is amazing, I think. You know, in good ways and bad ways, because right now you've got $64.8 million invested in the Opportunity Scholarship Program out of a $24 billion budget. A program that constitutes one quarter of one percent of the entire state budget has become the enemy. This is a program that provides low-income families a lifeline to a school of their choice that just so happens to be outside the traditional public school setting. It's just amazing to me that our current governor just feels that this is just taking away so much from the education budget or the whole budget for the state of North Carolina. It's not.

It's a drop in the bucket. But on the other hand, you've got a lieutenant governor in Dan Forest who's committed himself to supporting expanding school choice for families in our state, and he sees the Opportunity Scholarship as the saving grace that families who use it also see it that way. And it not only saves the state money, it also reduces class sizes in our public schools, which has been one of the biggest complaints. So the focus that's been on the Opportunity Scholarship Program and school choice in general sometimes make people feel that it's controversial, but I want people to know that it's not controversial at all. In fact, a January Civitas poll showed that 81 percent of people surveyed said that parents should be the ones to choose where their kids go to school. And 77 percent of those surveyed approved either strongly or somewhat with Opportunity Scholarships. And minority respondents were the most supportive. 78 percent of minority and people of color respondents said they support school choice. What are your priorities for expanding school choice here in North Carolina, both for you and other school choice advocates for the upcoming years?

Well, our immediate priority is for students with special needs and ensuring funding for the disabilities grant and education savings accounts at the level that there are now. It's not adequate. The demand is growing. It needs to be expanded. As it stands, with the education savings account program application, that opens in February of 2021, and there's zero dollars appropriated to that program for new scholarships right now. It's already fully utilized, and so nearly 2,000 students applied for this this past year.

And the waiting list for these two programs has been far too long, way too long. And so that's why this election is so important. So in a more general sense, it would be important to make a paradigm shift in education. We need to be looking at education in terms of putting the student and their needs first versus looking at what benefits the system.

That's the real key. So we want more options for families. We want every family to have access to the school of their choice, regardless of their zip code or income. And I think we can and should be exploring new ways to empower every family and parent and student in our state through school choice. And that could mean by looking at the education savings account model that we have now and finding ways to expand that. Great, Mike.

Well, we're just about out of time for this week. Before we go, where can our listeners go to learn more about their school choices and the work that you guys are doing over there at Parents for Educational Freedom? The letters of each word of that long name of our organization, P-E-F-N-C dot org. Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina, that is P-E-F-N-C dot org.

Everything you need to know about the programs, how to get on the programs is right there. And we also have another arm called Partners for Educational Freedom that will better inform listeners on where candidates stand. That is Partners NC dot org. If you want more information on where your local candidates stand on school choice and so forth, Partners NC dot org.

Great. That sounds like a great resource. We also want to remind listeners that the North Carolina Family Policy Council has a nonpartisan 2020 voter guide now available on our Web site. That's NC family dot org. So we've got some good resources between your organization and ours. Well, Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, thank you so much for your good work and for being with us today on family policy matters. Thank you, Tracy. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week to listen to the show online and to learn more about NC families work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina. Go to our Web site at NC family dot org. That's NC family dot o r g. Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-03 15:43:58 / 2024-02-03 15:49:50 / 6

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