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RALEIGH – A new political climate in the state capital could result in a number of school choice reforms enacted into law next year, a panel of legislators said Tuesday during a luncheon on school choice.
“We’re on the cusp of changing public schools and education in North Carolina,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and co-chairman of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee, said.
The changes will bring competition to education in the state, a measure that will benefit students, Tillman said.
“Competition will make you better, or you will get out,” Tillman said.
Tillman’s comments came during a luncheon sponsored by the Civitas Institute and the Friedman Foundation at the Marriott Crabtree Valey.
House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said that a some educational reform measures that stalled this passed year will fare better next year.
“We’ll get it next year,” Stam said, noting that time constraints made it more difficult to get some measures passed during this year’s short session.
Stam said that in addition to school choice legislation, lawmakers would move to enact reforms in teacher tenure and performance pay.
Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, said that polls show a lot of African Americans support school choice measures.
“I didn’t have to look at a poll,” Brandon said. He said he’d knock on doors and find out that people are crying for more options, noting that 41 percent of African American males don’t graduate from high school.
Paul DiPerna, research director for the Foundation for Educational Choice in Indianapolis, offered polling data showing overwhelming support among North Carolina registered voters for school choice measures, such as tax credit scholarships and vouchers.
Lindsey Burke, a researcher in education policy issues at The Heritage Foundation, reviewed education reform measures in place in other states, such as education saving accounts in Arizona, a voucher programs in Indiana and Louisiana.
After the meeting, Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations at the N.C. School Boards Association, said lawmakers likely would get support from the organization for some changes in the tenure system and pay for performance reforms. But she said the organization would fight the school choice measures.
Referring to performance pay, Winner said, “You can do assessments for most of the subjects, but things like arts and music or [physical education] are hard to assess.”
Winner said that historically, the school boards association has opposed school choice measures.
“The organization has historically opposed any voucher, opportunity scholarship or tuition tax credit,” Winner said, saying that such measures “erode the very fabric of them being able to provide an education.”
Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said North Carolina already has a voucher program for pre-kindergarten programs and private colleges. But choice programs aren’t there for kindergarten through high school education.
“Our tax code as it exists right now is primed for school choice,” Stoops said. “What we have in North Carolina is choice. But we have them as bookends.”
Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.