New poll shows strong support for school choice in North Carolina


A majority of North Carolinians support school choice, according to a new Civitas poll, which was released Thursday in conjunction with National School Choice Week.

Civitas surveyed 950 bipartisan voters from various parts of the state. The survey results showed 82% of North Carolinians believe parents should have the ability to select the school their child attends. Only 29% of the respondents with children currently enrolled in K-12 schools said they would choose a traditional public school if location and cost were not factors, the poll showed.

Respondents were mostly women (54%) and nearly 60% of respondents were age 50 and older (58.2%). About 66% of them were white, and nearly half (49.5%) live in suburban neighborhoods. About 29% were registered as Republicans, 32% were registered as Democrats and 32% were unaffiliated. However, 43% identified themselves as conservatives.

Regardless of their position on school choice, 43% of respondents agree that school choice lets parents make the best education decisions for their child.

Most parents said they would consider switching their child’s school because of the quality of education.

“Academics is by far the thing that parents are concerned about the most, and what they see when looking at a private school are things like small class sizes and various opportunities that they don’t see in their traditional public schools,” said Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation.

While only 7.5% of respondents gave local public schools an A grade, 22% gave the schools a B grade and 31% gave the C grade. More parents said they would transfer their children to a private school if cost and location were not factors than any other option. Out of all respondents, 72% said they favor creating education savings accounts, and 66% favor the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides government-funded scholarships to low and moderate-income students for tuition at a private school.

The General Assembly expanded the Opportunity Scholarship Program in September, voting to change the income eligibility threshold to allow more North Carolinians to apply.

A group of North Carolina parents and teachers sued the state and the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority last summer to end the program. The pending lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of private school vouchers. The plaintiffs argue some private schools force students to conform to their religious beliefs, including those surrounding homosexuality and gender.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have heightened school choice support, the poll shows. Four in 10 North Carolina parents said they have considered changing their child’s school since March.

Most parents also reported spending more money on their child’s education during the pandemic, and many said the pandemic modified their work routines. About 18% said they would transfer their child out of public school to receive in-person instruction.

The North Carolina Department of Instruction did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said Thursday during an education forum that advocates for school choice are trying to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to support their agenda.

Senate Republicans said Thursday said they plan to file legislation to reopen schools.

“Among all the COVID tragedies, the most preventable is the lost learning potential that, for some kids, will last a lifetime,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, who co-chairs the Senate Education Committee. “After hearing from so many parents and teachers, we have to act immediately to return children to the classroom to stop further damage.”

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