Editorial: Renewal status may bring transformation public schools need

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 23, 2019

About 80%.

That’s the number of K-12-age children in North Carolina who are enrolled in traditional public schools, according to data posted by the state earlier this month. It’s a number that’s been decreasing steadily as parents opt for other options to educate their children.

And Rowan County is no exception to that trend. As enrollment in Rowan-Salisbury Schools has decreased in recent years — from more than 20,000 in the 2009-2010 school year to about 18,500 in the 2018-2019 year — the number of children in home, private and charter schools has risen.

As reporter Andie Foley wrote in Sunday’s Post (“RSS pilots program for growing home school population”), there are nearly 2,700 Rowan County children enrolled in home school, a number that’s more than 1,000 students greater than 10 years ago.

And the amount Rowan-Salisbury Schools must provide to charter schools has increased sharply of late because of increased student enrollment, according to County Manager Aaron Church. He said the 48.7% increase in the charter school budget this year — $488,366 to $726,151 — is a result of increasing average daily membership at charter schools. Said another way, as students choose to move from public to charter schools, taxpayer dollars follow them.

The upward trend in charter enrollment is pushed along in part by the General Assembly in ways that include lifting a cap on the number of total charter schools.

But the overall decline in public school enrollment may be a sign that parents think their children will receive a better education elsewhere. That’s something our public schools must work to change.

As the Nettles family said in Sunday’s story, homeschooling allows students to have a personalized learning experience.

For various reasons, a portion of parents will always choose non-public education as the best choice for their children. The level of detail a teacher can devote to an individual student, for example, will never be as great as what a parent can provide.

Bringing a portion of students back to public schools will require innovative initiatives such as the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s renewal status, which we think will put it on track toward better preparing students for life after graduation.

Because succeeding in public school means more than scoring high on tests and graduating with a good GPA, the decline in public school enrollment should be a sign to those who create the learning environment and those who allocate funding in Raleigh that a change is needed. It may be as simple as encouraging more innovative solutions like renewal status.