FILE - School Choice Education Graduates Classroom

(The Center Square) – North Carolinians will host hundreds of events in the coming days for National School Choice Week, and they have a lot to celebrate.

Over the last few years the pandemic has fueled an explosion in demand for alternatives to the traditional public school system, and the Old North State is no exception.

North Carolina’s public charter schools posted the fifth-highest enrollment gains in the nation during the pandemic, jumping 12% between 2019 and 2022 as enrollment in traditional schools declined by 3.4%, according to the most recent data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

“With the unprecedented enrollment growth in North Carolina’s public charter schools over the past two years, what better time is there to celebrate these unique public schools than during National School Choice Week? This event will highlight some of the great things going on in our schools,” said Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.

National School Choice Week runs Sunday to Saturday this week. It features tens of thousands of events designed to build awareness in all 50 states, 867 of which happen in North Carolina alone.

Some of the larger events will be held in Raleigh on Thursday.

The John Locke Foundation will partner with Black Led Schools of Choice, CarolinaCan, EdChoice, North Carolinians for Home Education and Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina to sponsor an 11 a.m. luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel downtown.

That event will feature parent testimonies, remarks from state Superintendent Catherine Truitt, results from the annual Civitas School Choice Poll, and a legislative panel, in addition to musical entertainment.

"What has really led to momentum in the school choice movement in North Carolina is the passion from parents. We have always believed that parents know best and we couldn't be more thrilled to stand alongside them as we continue to see educational options in our state expand," said Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. "National School Choice Week is a week full of celebration, for both the accomplishments made in expanding school choice in the last year but in the potential for what's to come for North Carolina's students."

Also in Raleigh the same day, the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools and the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools will host “A Celebration of North Carolina’s Charter Schools” at The Fairview at noon.

The charter school event will include lunch, student performances, remarks from the North Carolina Charter School Teacher of the Year, other guest speakers, and a discussion of “Charter Schools 101.”

Other major events will be held in High Point, Fayetteville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Pinehurst and other cities across the state.

Data released by the Department of Public Instruction in November shows the average daily membership for North Carolina charter schools increased from 117,552 in 2019 to 140,133 in 2022.

Traditional public schools, meanwhile, declined in average daily membership over the same time, going from 1,408,592 to 1,363,399. The DPI data showed total student enrollment in North Carolina at 1,503,532 in 2022, or about 1.5% below 2019’s total of 1,526,144.

Enrollment in other school choice options, including homeschooling and private schools, also increased amid government shutdowns during the pandemic that limited traditional schools to remote instruction.

North Carolina responded to the increased demand for school choice options in 2021 by expanding eligibility for its scholarship program and raising the income threshold to qualify. The state also increased its scholarship amount to 90% of the state per pupil funding for traditional public schools, and combined a grant for students with disabilities with its Education Savings Account program, providing disabled students up to $17,000 in aid.

A Civitas poll of 600 bipartisan voters conducted ahead of last year’s National School Choice Week found 81% of North Carolinians believe parents should have the ability to select the school their child attends, with more than half in support of charter schools, private school vouchers and education savings accounts.