(The Center Square) – Universal school choice and a landmark decision in higher education at the U.S. Supreme Court topped North Carolina’s 2023 impactful education developments.
The state became 10th in the country to create universal school choice for its more than 1.5 million K-12 students, and the first to do so without the benefit of a Republican trifecta in state government.
In Students for Fair Housing v. University of North Carolina, the justices ruled 6-3 race cannot be a factor in admissions. Despite the unprecedented diversity of the justices, critics blasted the conservative-led court for “being on the wrong side of history” and disenfranchising students of color.
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.
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.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as Harvard, were dealt losses at the nation’s highest court.
The nation’s first public university, established in 1789, pledged to comply with the law.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “Carolina remains firmly committed to bringing together talented students with different perspectives and life experiences and continues to make an affordable, high-quality education accessible to the people of North Carolina and beyond.”
Guskiewicz won’t be around for that. In December he agreed to become Michigan State’s sixth president in six years, starting March 4, leaving Carolina to find its fourth in 11.
Within the state’s $60.7 spending plan is a 6.1% increase for education to $17.3 billion in the current fiscal year, and a 9.5% increase to $17.9 billion in 2024-25. More than half of each year’s statewide funds go to education.
Teachers picked up raises of 7% over the two-year period, with a starting salary floor of $39,000. Bus drivers get a 9% pay raise.
Gov. Roy Cooper, in an unofficial manner, posted to his government website a “State of Emergency for Public Education” during the summer. It remains up in 2024.
Changes in literacy assessment helped North Carolina more than double the national average in gains for third graders. The state still has more than 18,000 students not proficient in reading by the end of the third grade, down from more than 27,000 in 2021-22.
Math assessments since the pandemic show “a greater distance to the recovery thresholds both one year and two years later than reading.”
Parents’ Bill of Rights
The Parents’ Bill of Rights enhances public school transparency, outlines the rights and responsibilities of parents and installs guardrails on curriculum dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation. Also, the law enacted at the start of the calendar year subjects state employees to disciplinary action if they attempt to encourage or coerce a child to withhold information from a parent.