03/10/08 — Students should have new choices of schools

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Students should have new choices of schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 10, 2008 1:54 PM

Darrell Allison recalls looking for a 12-foot ladder years ago while living in Charlotte.

With a Home Depot on one side of the street and Lowe's on the other, Allison decided to do some comparison shopping.

"I found one for $129 and across the street, the same identical ladder was $112," he said.

He purchased the less expensive version. But it caused him to think broader.

"There should be the same options when we look at providing our children's education," he said. "If School X is delivering a better product than School Y, why can't we allow this competition to reign?

"Not only did I benefit because I got the same product for a little bit cheaper, but the store benefited from having competition. ... they'll deliver better quality to the public or else they're out of business."

Perhaps the same holds true in the education realm, he said.

"At the end of the day, when is the last time we heard of a school shutting down?" he asked.

Allison is president of Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina, a non-profit organization formed in 2005 and based in Raleigh. With 13 states, including Washington D.C., already adopting the school choice program, Allison recently made Wayne County one of his stops as he traveled the state.

The mission is simple.

"We want more quality education options in the state," he said. But it is not about private versus public schools, or the much-touted voucher system.

"Our organization is real excited about an option that's not nationally prevalent for a lot of families (and) making it affordable for more to have access in the state," he said. "Our take is that there's other options out there that have worked well in the nation."

Whether the business community gets involved or state dollars are redirected, at the end of the day, he suggested, it is about what's best for the children.

"Education is the foundation. It's a constitutional right in North Carolina," he said. "Why is it we have to do it the same way? We have more specialized schools out there, more programs. ... Why shouldn't taxpayers be entitled to a portion for that child to be able to attend a school that best meets their needs?"

The number of families choosing private and home-schooled environments has risen drastically in recent years, Allison said. According to the N.C. Department of Non-Public Education, there are an estimated 68,707 students currently being home-schooled, with 93,000 students in the state enrolled in private schools.

But, Allison said, none of this is to say that public schools are bad or private schools have more quality.

"We're saying, as Judge Manning and others are saying, that we have a crisis in this state," he said. "They're not faring well in their educational system. Let's create some more viable options."

The initiative, at the very least, will offer a level of accountability, Allison says.

Faced with challenges of rising dropout rates in the state and packed jails, plus ongoing debates about poverty and resegregation, the need for quality school systems becomes even more prevalent, he added.

"This is an opportunity where our families can get immediate assistance," he said. "It's not a solution for all but it will save the dreams, the destinies of thousands of children across the state."

As families become familiar with the concept, he believes it will be well-received.

"When you get away from the rhetoric -- anti-public schools or resegregation -- and really get down and have this kind of discussion, people connect with what you're saying," he said.

This is an idea whose time has come, Allison says.

"We want to continue to build that grass roots support, that grass tops support, lawmaker support," he said. "We do believe that we're a great reflection of our state.

"We're very diverse. Every race here in the state is a part of us, even Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Our single focus is the expansion of educational options in North Carolina."