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As School Choice Week arrives, much has changed in the last year

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(The Center Square) – Options for school children in North Carolina were different a year ago.

Come Sunday when National School Choice Week begins, there will be much to celebrate among those who advocate that children should not be in poor-performing schools just because of where they live.

The state will spend $17.3 billion for education in the fiscal year through June 30. That’s a 6.1% increase. There’s $17.9 billion set aside for 2024-25. Lawmakers granted more than half of each year’s state budget to education.

Opportunity scholarships, the mechanism for school choice in the state, is available for all kindergarten through 12th grade students. They can attend the school of their choice, including private schools. The budget increases accountability through required student testing for schools with opportunity scholarship students.

North Carolina became the 10th state, and first without a Republican trifecta leading state government, to enact universal school choice in 2023 for its more than 1.5 million K-12 students. North Carolina’s new program comes after years of declining public school enrollment as families shift toward private and home-based programs.

Charter schools, too, say enrollment swelled 18.8% between 2019 and 2023, driven mostly by growth among Black and Hispanic students and reactions to pandemic mitigation policies. In North Carolina, charter schools are public schools, a fact often mischaracterized.

Opening the program to all students in North Carolina will boost the state’s “education freedom” ranking from 35 to 12, according to an ALEC policy expert who spoke with The Center Square in an email exchange in October.

National School Choice Week, an awareness campaign, is for seven days beginning Sunday. On Wednesday, Celebrate School Choice is an event hosted by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. It is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Raleigh. On the final day, Saturday of next week, the North Carolina Charter School Fair is hosted in Concord by the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.

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