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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.
Family policy matters in engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina family policy Council hi this is John Ralston, presidency, family, and were grateful to have you with us for this week's program is our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged and inspired by what you hear on family policy matters and that you will fold better equipped to be a voice of persuasion, family values in your community, state and nation, and now here's our house to family policy matters. Tracy Devitt brings thanks for joining us this week for family policy matters a lot is at stake. This election season.
Over the past few weeks on the show. We focused on the most important issues in areas of public policy that voters are considering what they were 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 were grateful to have them back on the program today. Mike long welcome back to family policy matters is always great to speak with you.
So, school choice friendly is North Carolina compared to other states and how do we get to be that way will I think your states are more school choice friendly but North Carolina we done a lot, especially since 2011 up. It could be hard-pressed to find a state that is done more for school choice than the Tar Heel state up, we eliminated the Own public charter schools. We created a pair of really incredible private school scholarship programs for students with special needs and and also those of low income, both by the way just received important resources in a covert relief package passed by the Gen. assembly. But we 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 ask the school of their parents choice. We've also embraced a homeschool boom that is 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 nontraditional educational opportunities and we just been the leader in that for many many years. So, hard-pressed to find the statements done more educational freedom recently hosted US education Sec. Betsy DeVos tells why she was here, and what were the goals and outcomes of her visit. What she recognizes North Carolina as a leader in school choice and does. She joined us for a roundtable discussion along with Lieut. Gov. Dan Forest. We also had the president pro tem of the spirit. Phil Berger here with us.
We had Joseph Kaiser from speaker Tim Moore's office joined us and also Senators Joyce, product, and Senators Deanna Ballard all but more importantly for this Tracy. We had three North Carolina parents with us and the goal of the meeting was for secretary divorce to hear directly from these parents about how their children's education was impacted by the covert, 19 pandemic and the parents on the panel all have very different stories, but the common thread is that they know what their children need educationally and to be sure they've always known that the pandemic has highlighted this tenfold. Give an example immediate outcome to our visit and what the parents said and what she heard what one mom spoke of her daughter's anxiety and depression accelerated because of her lack of peer interaction and distance learning, and another spoke of her nine-year-old daughter with special needs. You cannot physically sit in front of a computer for hours of remote learning and you know how often the parents get to share the 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 and politics don't always come easily and they rarely come quickly, but having someone like secretary divorce and her position will make all students regardless of what educational option their parents had chosen a priority. Betsy DeVos gets a lot of flack in the in the mainstream media that 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 unit. A lot of people think and what we do, that were 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 grades if it's a private school.
Great if it's a homeschool great if it's virtual learning great word were just think parents need to make that choice, and so were not trying to get rid of a system were trying to reform the system so that it just better meets the needs of families, you mentioned the great impact that the pandemic has had on our educational system in the past year so so talk about that what has been the impact of this shift to mostly distance-learning because the pandemic really be interested parents is the most noteworthy part of this because they they need options. I was schools closed and all of this going on date 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 just look at the opportunity scholarship program.
You know, in September, there were over 50 18,000 new applications submitted for the program. There was funding for the 2021 school year for about 2400 new seats and again you 15,000 new applications for 2400 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, so goes our phones, your PF and see they been ringing off the hook unit with parents who are looking for what their options might be because distance-learning is just simply not working for their child and yet of the most heartbreaking of calls are from the parents whose children have special needs like this take recently the school of hope in Fayetteville that serve students with autism. I got a call and they were telling you that you know when their school closed in March. Their principal would've loved to follow suit with you know what other schools were doing and like you are having a car parade by the school, so the students could see their teachers and see each other and and if anything just wave and say we miss you, but they couldn't do that because you want to confuse and upset their children. You know who may not understand why they can't come to school and in the same students often have you know, sensory processing disorders and the texture and feeling of the mask makes wearing one impossible and you know some students were able to continue their therapy.
Some 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 the students in these families and how far behind they can fall so many different levels. So rightfully you have some of the relief of these families came with an additional $6 million in the covert relief bill just passed by the Gen. assembly of this was championed by Sen. Joyce probably and other changes have made the unit and remove the red tape so that the opportunity scholarship but can help parents put on a waiting list K-3 one. You know to get these funds and that was championed by Sen. Deanna Ballard so the demand is there, and luckily the covert relief bill is an incredible step in meeting that demanded a time when it's needed the most. Referring to some in person options for the students right that is correct and and and just expanding all of the school choice options for them. It 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 had been meeting and meeting successfully without any issues whatsoever. This is another reason why you seen the homeschool just boom in our state, but our parents need more help to get a date 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 they need help and that's why further expanding school choice options especially during the covert pandemic is absolutely necessary.
Okay so 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 $4200 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 it yelling good in good ways and bad ways because right now you got $64.8 million invested in the opportunity scholarship program out of a $24 billion budget, a program that constitutes one 12:45 percent of the entire state budget has become the enemy.
This is a program that provides low income families. A lifeline to the 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 are good for 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 got a Lieut. Gov. and Dan Forrest, who's committed himself to supporting expanding school choice for families in our state and he sees the opportunity scholarship is the saving grace of families you know to use it.
Also see it that way and it it not only saves the state money. It also reduces class sizes in our public schools, which is been one of the biggest complaints so the focus that's been on the opportunity scholarship program in school choice in general sometimes make people feel that it's controversial but I want I want people to know that it's not controversial at all. In fact, a January sabotage poll showed that 81% of people surveyed said that parents should be the ones to choose where their kids go to school and 77% of those surveyed approved either strongly or somewhat with opportunity scholarship and minority respondents were the most supportive 78% of minority and people of color, respondents said they support school choice 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 priorities for students with special needs and ensuring funding for the disabilities grant education savings accounts at the level that there are now it's 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 2020, 21, and their zero dollars appropriated to that program for new scholarships right now. It's already fully utilized and so nearly 2000 students applied for this. This past year and the waiting list for these two programs is been far too long way to home and so that's why this election is so important. So in a more general sense, it will 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 would carless of their ZIP Code or in common.
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 that could mean by looking at the education savings account model you know that we have now and finding ways to expand that great Michael would just about out of time for this week before we go where can I listeners go to learn more about their school choices and the work that you guys are doing over there appearance for educational freedom. The letters of each word of that long name of our organization. P EF and C.org parents for educational freedom of North Carolina that is P EF and C.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 in C.org if you want more information on where your local candidates stand on school choice, and so forth partners MC.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 website that's NC family.Margie so we got some good resources between your organization and eyes all night 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 been listening to family policy matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plenitude, and again next week to listen to the show online and to learn more about NC families were to inform, encourage and inspire families across Carolina go to our website it NC family.org that's NC family.org. Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family