DURHAM — North Carolina Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson participated with a diverse group education, political, and nonprofit leaders at an education roundtable in Durham on Aug. 23.
The roundtable was hosted by Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina (AFP-NC) and The LIBRE Initiative-North Carolina (LIBRE-NC).
Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4) organization engaging in “broad-based grassroots outreach to advocate for long-term solutions.”
According to its website, The LIBRE Initiative is “part of a 501(c4) nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to amplifying the voice of the U.S. Hispanic community so it can thrive and contribute to a more prosperous America.”
LIBRE’s focus areas include economic opportunity, health care, education, immigration, and criminal justice reform.
Joining Robinson were Rep. Erin Paré (R-Wake), LIBRE Deputy Executive Director Juan Martinez, Classical Conversations CEO Robert Bortins, AFP Senior Education Policy Analyst Rachelle Engen, and President of the NC Society of Hispanic Professionals Rocio Anderson.
Topics included increasing communications on education opportunities in North Carolina, increasing broadband access, higher education options and expansion of school choice options such as the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) and the popular Opportunity Scholarship Program.
The panel agreed that parents can and should play a significant role in the education of their children and there should be more promotion of learning that happens outside of a classroom.
“Another thing to look at is what the purpose of education is,” said Engen. “I think we all have a different reason as to what the purpose is, but I think the biggest reason is for students to develop and deploy their passions and interests and as the other panelists said, this doesn’t just happen in a classroom.”
Paré concurred but added that “children are sponges” and underscored parental engagement.
“It’s just critically important that parents have a role in deciding the best pathway for their children’s education,” said Paré. “And I think that is completely in the spirit of a ‘sound, basic education’ because we want our children to succeed.”
“In order for our education system to be successful, at the very top of that needs to be the parent,” said Robinson. He added that “no one – no bureaucrat – needs to stand in the way of a parent determining the direction of their child’s education.”
Anderson remarked that her organization has been working with middle and high school students to ensure their parents can “better navigate” school systems in the state.
During the discussion, Robinson also drew attention to the NC Community College System’s “Apprentice NC” program that connects business with students with hands-on, skill-building paid apprenticeships.
The technical skills students were able to obtain through the state’s community college system was also referenced by Anderson. She said the students they work with are very interest in STEM, leading them to partner with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to create a portal for Hispanic students to get more information on STEM opportunities.
When the topic of learning loss was raised, Bortins commented that homeschoolers were resources for other families during the pandemic.
“Not only did we not see learning loss in our community because we were able to keep going because we’re homeschoolers, but we actually helped reduce learning loss for the entire country because we are loving and helping our neighbors through the pandemic,” said Bortins.
On ESA’s, when asked if a family’s income should impact access to that program, Paré said “absolutely not,” and that is why she has continually supported programs like ESA’s and Opportunity Scholarships.
“North Carolina and nationally, Hispanics believe in the American Dream,” Martinez said when asked why school choice options were so popular with Hispanic families.
“When I talk to certain parents, they think their children are doing good,” said Martinez. “But when you explain to them sometimes that your child is doing good in a failing school, their eyes open up.”
Martinez went on to say that when you show those families the educational opportunities, “that is why they came here” and they want that for their children.
North Carolina is home to over a million Latino and Hispanic citizens, according to a report from Carolina Demography citing U.S. Census data, the Hispanic population in North Carolina is growing at a much faster rate (28.3%) than it is nationwide (19.6%). 2020 census data also shows the Hispanic population in North Carolina grew by 40% over the ten years spanning 2010-2020 and that population is now at 1.1 million or nearly 11% of all state residents.
In an interview with North State Journal prior to the event, Robinson said of the Hispanic outreach on education issues that “this is just the beginning” and there needs to be more communication with other communities.
“We certainly know that we want to live in a society where, of course, color doesn’t matter…ethnicity doesn’t matter. We don’t live in that society yet… you know, we’re not there yet and we were working towards it,” Robinson said. “And from my point of view, we’re in a very good place, but we know that each individual community has its own challenges.”
“And we believe that in order to properly serve the people in these communities in these different communities we have to find out from them what challenges they face,” said Robinson.
Robinson also said expanding school choice in the state was “absolutely” a priority.
“At the top of our agenda is expanding school choice; putting parents at the top of the education ladder, so that they can chart their children’s educational destiny,” said Robinson.
Homeschooling is “definitely part of the equation” according to Robinson.
“I think that homeschooling is the is the next great frontier in education and as an elected official, we need to look at what those folks are doing,” Robinson said. “We need to look at what’s working and what’s not working, and how we can make every all of it work better.”