School choice offers brighter future for North Carolina

Established in 2001 as a ministry of Grace Covenant Church, Grace Covenant Academy in Cornelius, North Carolina, one of 844 private schools in the state serving more than 123,000 students, prides itself on excellence in Christian education, serving 3-year-olds through Grade 8.

Editor’s note: This commentary from John Hood, a board member at the John Locke Foundation, appeared Wednesday on

The North Carolina General Assembly is about to make all children eligible for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program. They won’t all receive the same amounts — poor and middle-income families will be eligible for vouchers in the range of $6,500 to $7,200 per student, while upper-income households will receive much less.

Nevertheless, both proponents and opponents are quite properly using the term “universal” to describe the policy, which will go into effect for the 2024-25 academic year.

School-choice advocates are ecstatic. Critics are despondent. Although my sympathies here are evident and longstanding, I think it would behoove both sides to temper their expectations a bit. There won’t be a gigantic exodus of children from district-run public schools in the fall of 2024.

For one thing, North Carolina’s current private schools don’t have the capacity to absorb such an enrollment boom. One of the best arguments for choice programs is their potential to foster entrepreneurship in education.

Just as the creation of charters gave educators, parents, and reformers the capacity to develop new models for public education, voucher expansion will give existing providers the capacity to add new grades and campuses while creating opportunities for new entrants to the K-12 space.

It can’t all happen in a year, though. It takes time to assemble teams, build or rent facilities, hire faculty, and develop content.

Furthermore, while some families will immediately take advantage of scholarships for which they’ll be newly eligible, many others will be intrigued but cautious. They’ll do their homework about what private options are already available, where new schools will open, and when they calculate the benefits of transferring their children will exceed the costs (which aren’t purely monetary, of course).

Still other families will have little interest in taking advantage of opportunity scholarships at all, either because they’re satisfied with the education their children are receiving in public schools — district or charter — or because they don’t like the private options available.

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BY Special to NextSteps