North Carolina recently became the ninth state to pass universal school choice, following the adoption of the Education Savings Account (ESA) model. Under this program, funding will gradually increase to reach $520 million by 2032. ESAs enable parents to utilize public funds for various education expenses, including private school tuition, instructional materials, and homeschooling costs. Notably, North Carolina is the first state to implement this policy without a Republican trifecta, as Republicans control the state legislature while a Democrat holds the governorship.
The successful passage of the school choice bill can be attributed to the unified support from all Republicans in the legislature, who cosponsored the bill, allowing them to override a potential veto from Governor Roy Cooper. This success is reminiscent of Arizona, where Republicans also voted in favor of universal school choice last year despite having slim majorities in both chambers. Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation For Children, highlighted the significance of these achievements, emphasizing that if North Carolina and Arizona can pass such legislation, other red states should be able to follow suit and empower families with education freedom.
Governor Cooper, however, has been critical of school choice, claiming that public schools are being threatened and accusing Republicans of undermining public education. In June, he released a TV ad denouncing the “radical legislature” and criticizing their focus on tax cuts and vouchers for private education instead of prioritizing public school teachers’ pay and funding. Cooper even declared a state of emergency in response to the school choice bill, although he did not provide further comment on the matter.
The strained relationship between schools and parents has grown more evident in recent years, particularly due to the academic setbacks resulting from COVID-19-related school closures. This has prompted discussions about the influence of teachers unions and the curriculum taught in public schools. In response to these concerns, Republican governors have made significant progress in advancing universal school choice legislation, a concept that was virtually nonexistent just a few years ago.
Arizona was the first state to lead the way in universal school choice, expanding its Educational Savings Account program in July 2022 to include all students, regardless of their school district or disabilities. Additionally, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia have implemented ESA models, while Oklahoma passed a universal tax credit program and Ohio implemented a universal school voucher program. Indiana has its own “Choice Scholarship Program,” which offers vouchers to low- and middle-income families, resulting in nearly universal eligibility.
The recent adoption of the school choice policy in North Carolina signifies the growing momentum of the parental rights movement. As more states embrace universal school choice, it is clear that teachers unions are facing increased opposition from a previously “sleeping giant.” With red states leading the way, the empowerment of families through education freedom is becoming an achievable goal nationwide.