Right to Be Educated or Right to Choose? School Choice and Its Impact on Education in North Carolina

Today, states face the challenge of how best to educate their citizens in light of state constitutional obligations to provide public education. Lawmakers must decide between investing more in traditional public schools or pursuing educational alternatives for students and their families. The school choice movement advocates for legal reform creating alternatives such as charter schools and school vouchers. This Note examines the ongoing doctrinal and social effects of school choice in North Carolina.

Doctrinally, school choice has successfully shifted the debate about what the purpose of state education law should be. As recently as one decade ago, statutory and decisional law was primarily premised on the idea that public education was a societal good designed to educate the citizenry and was governed by the costs and benefits to the community. Now, North Carolina education law increasingly emphasizes the importance of creating distinctive, varied school options and the benefits individual students accrue by accessing educational alternatives.

The change in North Carolina education law raises serious practical concerns. Rationalizing the benefits of publicly sponsored education in terms of individual gain leaves some students behind and produces negative social outcomes, such as segregation of schools. Charter schools and private schools funded by vouchers also have incentives to recruit high-performing students and not accommodate various disadvantaged groups within North Carolina. Unless the State is careful in considering the needs of all individual students, legalizing more state-sponsored school choice alternatives will exacerbate the relationship between family resources and educational opportunity.