Legislation introduced in our state General Assembly represents a good news/bad news dichotomy for public school parents. On the positive side, lawmakers may finally raise the charter school cap, a long-overdue change that would boost educational options for thousands of state families. But state legislators are also seeking to replace North Carolina’s long-standing abstinence-based sex education curriculum with a more “comprehensive” (read contraceptive-based) approach – a move that would undoubtedly dismay many parents.
But first, to the good news. House Bill 1638 would increase the number of charter schools by 10 percent of the previous year’s number, allowing for incremental growth and reinvigorating the statewide charter school movement. If passed, this bill would elicit a collective sigh of relief from charter school supporters and parents around the state. Since state lawmakers passed the original law creating charter schools in 1996, they have refused to budge on the state’s cap of 100 schools. This legislative limit has severely constrained growth: consider that Franklin Academy, a Raleigh charter school, received over 1,500 applications for only 101 slots this past year. While 99 active charters serve nearly 30,000 students, many more families are clearly left out in the cold.
Fortunately, the time seems ripe for the bill’s passage. And since next week (April 30 – May 4) is National Charter School Week, charter schools are sure to be in the news. The North Carolina Charter School League will do its part to highlight these innovative public schools, sponsoring an annual Charter School Day at the General Assembly on Wednesday, May 2nd. Charter school supporters from across the state will convene in Raleigh to meet with General Assembly members. If possible, you may want to join the day’s activities in Raleigh.
But supporters will come to Raleigh prepared for opposition: despite the need for more charter schools, traditional government school lobbyists continue to speak against these “experimental schools,” preferring instead to control families’ options, eliminate competition, and keep the cash flowing into systems instead of schools of choice. Fortunately, legislators are increasingly becoming wise to the fact that preserving the charter cap does nothing to ensure educational quality and limits access to high-quality public school options to boot.
Ready for the bad news? While public school students may start next year with more educational options, they may also be pushed to grow up a little too fast. Since the mid 1990s, state statute has required schools to teach a sex-education curriculum promoting sexual abstinence until marriage. But if some General Assembly members have their way, this official standard will become history.
House Bill 879 and Senate Bill 1182 would require schools to implement a “comprehensive” curriculum, encouraging contraception (assuming, of course, that students are sexually active anyway). These bills also mandate the teaching of alternative sexual behaviors and visual instruction on the use of condoms as early as 7th grade. The message implicit in this kind of curriculum is that teen sexual activity is acceptable as long as adolescents use “protection.”
Yet data confirm (.pdf) that the adolescent pregnancy rate has declined more than 40 percent since 1990. Clearly, the “abstinence until marriage” message is working. It’s also worth noting that if lawmakers jump ship in favor of a “comprehensive” sex ed curriculum, they will forfeit more than $1.2 million in federal abstinence education funds. Let’s hope most General Assembly members have the right facts on sex education before they vote and stand firm against the liberal agenda.
What’s a parent to do? Speak up and speak out – the stakes are high. But know, too, that what ultimately happens in the end is up to us. Henry Ward Beecher, in his Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, spoke about the responsibilities of democracy: “It is for men to choose whether they will govern themselves or be governed.” As parents, what will you choose?
Lindalyn Kakadelis is Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance.