North State Journal spoke to four of the major players in guiding North Carolina’s education policy.
North State Journal: Why do you have such a passion for parental school choice?
Darrell Allison: In 2004, if you lined up 100 African-American boys, 60 of those boys would have failed to get a high school diploma in four years. I’m product of public education and my wife and I have two daughters in traditional public schools, we believe in them. But we also knew that there was a growing segment of society that weren’t getting the education that they are rightfully entitled to.When you look at the number of families that are in failing schools a large majority of those are low income families, whether you are talking about rural or urban. We have a challenge in NC of adequately educating low income children, regardless of where they are in the 100 counties. Where you live and [family] income determines largely … the school your child will attend. There’s nothing innovative or engaging about that. It breeds ambivalence and discontentment for many families.
NSJ: What has been the biggest challenge?
DA: Explaining that these programs are complements, not substitutes, to the public school system. Families just don’t look at the K-12 education model the same way that policy makers and special interest groups do. … Families at the kitchen table are really thinking through the K-12 journey for their children. For them, the end goal is to have a child that is adequately educated, who gets a high school diploma, and go off to college. Parents are willing to use any quality option along that journey. The end goal for them isn’t traditional public school only, or public charter school only, or private school only. Their end goal is for “my child to be adequately educated and go off to college to be better than I am.”We are really now seeing this pent-up demand, whether it’s the Opportunity Scholarship or the special needs program, or public charter schools. We are tapping into a population that heretofore never really had options. And you are starting to see the response because where the income was a major deterrent to that population to be able to have access, we are eliminating those barriers. We cannot say to parents, “These tax dollars that you pay into, you have no say so. That school is not working for your child because of your low income or because of where you live, so tough it out.” That’s fundamentally wrong.
NSJ: What excites you about the future of education in N.C.?
DA: The Opportunity Scholarships, the growth of charter schools, the special needs programs, these have been real game changers. If you are wealthy in N.C. you have options. When you are not, you don’t. So now It’s a real paradigm shift that we are seeing before us here in N.C. I’m excited about it, to think that in the 21st century we are thinking more innovatively and providing greater flexibility not only for families, but also for our school systems. These are all positives in moving us forward.