By John Hood

Although North Carolina continues to be one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, the number of students in our district-run public schools has been shrinking. Total enrollment in the 2021-22 school year was about 4% lower than a decade earlier, translating into roughly 60,000 fewer students. Districts enrolled 77% of all school-aged children in our state last year, down from 87% in 2011-12.

The increasing propensity of North Carolina families to choose charter, private, or home schools has many district superintendents, board members, and other public officials greatly concerned. They worry that as school districts lose market share, their political and financial support will wither. Some are even worried that applying terms such as “market share” in this context is wrongheaded and dangerous.

I think their concerns are overblown. Competition generally improves performance. That’s true in business, sports, electoral politics, and the performing arts. It’s also true in sectors such as road construction, medical care, and education in which government may play a major or even dominant role in financing services but need not necessarily play as large a role in providing them.

You don’t have to believe all public hospitals should be privatized to believe it is a good idea for them to have to compete for patients. Similarly, you don’t have to favor the abolition of public schools to believe it is a good idea for them to have to compete for students.

I’m no public-school abolitionist myself. I happen to believe that fostering competition tends to improve public schools over time. I’ve often cited studies that lend empirical support to my belief. One recent paper, published last year in the journal Applied Economics, looked at education markets and outcomes in Mississippi. In places where public schools face significant competition from private ones, students in the former tended to learn more. “Policymakers should consider competition-based school reform policies to increase public school outcomes,” the authors concluded.

If I were a North Carolina policymaker deeply concerned about declining district enrollment, I’d be thinking hard about how to become more competitive and thus attract disenchanted families back to my schools. In particular, if I were in a high-enrollment district such as Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Durham, or Cumberland, I’d be thinking hard about deconsolidation.

These districts are simply far too large for their own good. Merging tiny rural districts with sparse populations into larger systems probably makes them more cost-effective. But for a variety of reasons, some understandable and some puzzling, North Carolina has blundered far past the point of diminishing returns in consolidating our school districts.

While there is scholarly debate about the precise tipping point, the fiscal and educational benefits of merging districts tend to fade out when the resulting enrollments exceed a few thousand students.

When those enrollments rise into the tens of thousands of students, consolidation can actually become a net negative, both in expense (economies of scale turn into diseconomies of scale) and educational outcomes. A famous 2003 study of California’s school systems concluded, for example, that when system enrollments exceed 40,000 students “district size has a negative effect on student performance.”

After the tumultuous events of the past three years, school districts now have another good reason to deconsolidate: it will make it easier for public schools to accommodate parents’ widely divergent preferences with regard to curriculum, safety, health, and other potentially hot-button issues.

During the height of the pandemic, for example, some urban and suburban parents were furious that their public schools stayed shut down for many months. Other parents were subsequently furious when school systems resumed in-person learning as the default mode and deemphasized or eliminated virtual options.

In retrospect, more North Carolina families would have gotten the type and level of educational services they desired — and fewer would have left public schools entirely — if populous counties contained multiple districts with differing COVID policies.

For big districts looking to rekindle a relationship with departed families, here’s my advice: break up to make up.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.

(22) comments


Knows what he's talking about. CCPS compared to state is a perfect example.

Big Fat Drunk Republican

Talk to the actual teachers in the county that are underpaid, under appreciated. Public education should be cherished, protected. We know the MAGA plan, the Evangelucals have wanted to destroy Public Education since Reagan promised to get rid of the Dept of Education.

The line standing between the MAGA agenda and its version of the Taliban is educated citizens.

Big Fat Drunk Republican



Now that Roe vs Wade has been taken, the new GOP fundraising tool will be destroying public education

It’s been the plan for decades — destroy public education, destroy public knowledge. Rich right wingers will always have access to everything, want to deny it to others, especially resent paying for it to share with the public. Sure, they donate as they see fit, & to be glorified

Big Fat Drunk Republican

The MAGA plan looks like this: Parents are given a voucher for several thousand dollars that comes out of the state education budget. The money can be spent on tuition for charter or private schools, microschools (collective homeschooling), or regular homeschooling. Republicans say the “money goes to the kids.” In reality, it reduces money going to public schools to a point where the schools will be dramatically underfunded.

David Collins

Good try , BFDR but you did not go back far enough on the flow of funding money .

Taxes fund the public school budget . We all pay them or are supposed to . Lots of residents and growing in numbers , have no children in the public schools . That leaves a pretty plump chicken in the pot . Those that chose , for whatever reason , not to send their spawn to the public trough and get vouchers are free to pick and chose the best fit for their children . As long as it is “certified” as a real school and follows the approved regiment all should be good to go . The not teaching of useless fluff and concentrating on what will aid one’s transition to achieving success in American society is a good thing . Save the social issues for post high school grades . It is more than enough to be able to read proficiently , comprehend what is read , math as high as possible , for everyone is different , basic science , and of course ability to communicate effectively in voice and script . A smattering of the arts , to light the fires of imagination and a basic understanding of how our system of government is supposed to work . Do all that and a change will be on the way . Change for good .

Let the public schools sink into the mire of their own making . You never know , someone might notice and changes just might be possible . Even in the public sector .

Doc Epoch

It’s always about following their rules and providing more money to inflated and failed government systems. Schools are in a perpetual state of “limited funding” and “we need more money”.

... Everyone must bow to their demands or you’re labeled as another xyz. Those who disagree, are categorized into some group or political agenda. It’s a strange parasitic mindset.

I think parents should be provided a yearly voucher so they are allowed to decide their child’s education just as they do in other states. “Oh great here come the MAGA, Racist, Reagan NeoCon, evenjellycoals who are ruining our schools with prayer and God!!! Just let them have their hormones you bigot!”

These people suffer from serious cognitive dissonance and need a mental booster. The thought process is basic communist psychology, use projection to create and then assume narratives without discussion or critical thought. Home school your children people, let the system collapse on itself like the big fat drunk Republicrat who created it. Sober up please, we need more clarity and less social justice warriors.

(Edited by staff.)

Big Fat Drunk Republican

And what social justice ixx ex being taught in school? I’m not talking about the made up stuff you hear about. I mean the actual social justice.

Let’s hear it.

Claims are great, but let’s see the evidence.

The MAGA propaganda machine knows how to scare you, does it have actual facts?

Doc Epoch

Most schools in the UNC System have adopted Critical Social Justice/Diversity Equity Inclusion/Critical Race Theory/Multiculturalism etc in their strategic plans, and things are accelerating across the system. A system-wide Racial Equity Task Force, which the Board of Governors empowered, released a report in December 2020 to accelerate the push to extend DEI programming into all facets of all the universities. It called for more administrative DEI hiring throughout the system and establishing more new programming aimed supposedly at aggrieved minorities, including curricular changes and more developed retention programs. The entire report was based on the idea that the UNC System represents systematically racist notions of achievement that could be deconstructed through careful administrative oversight.

Start there, there’s a great article online. I don’t get scared because I see through propaganda.


Public schools are mandated to provide education to all children, pvt schools can pick and choose. Voucher schemes that provide more money then parents pay in taxes, can only raise taxes to fund public schools. The endless bleating about college loan forgiveness, compared to pvt school vouchers? Do the math.


A presentation obtained by North State Journal shows the new leader of Wake County Public Schools’ Office of Equity Affairs presented on “culturally responsive teaching and social justice in high school mathematics classrooms.”

Wake County’s new Office of Equity Affairs leader Dr. William Chavis gave the presentation alongside Dr. Kevin Bullock, Executive Director for Equity Affairs for Durham Public Schools. Bullock is also the husband of Ronda Bullock, the founder of Working Towards Anti-Racist Education (WEARE) which is an organization that openly supports the use of Critical Race Theory in K-12 education.


Social justice standards training has infiltrated NC schools. Must read.


Some of our youngest children are taught by teachers who hate our society and want to pass that hate on to them.

It’s happening in Wake County, North Carolina.

According to City Journal, more than 200 North Carolina teachers attended a racist conference. The Wake County public schools have launched a campaign entitled “whiteness in educational spaces.”

As part of the campaign, children are told to ignore parental concerns. “Parents,” according to the teachers, “should be considered an impediment to social justice,” Christopher Rufo reports at City Journal.

David Collins

And ixx ex is what ? A new gender ?

Doc Epoch

Haha. Yes, it is. It’s a neo-pronoun as they say. I personally identify as a Transvaxite and use Vax/Unvaxx pronouns. It’s a transient feeling, sometimes I feel vaccinated, sometimes I don’t. If you refuse to acknowledge my identity at the time, you’re a bigot.


Looks like y'all met the challenge.


meanwhile for folks who relate to actual facts education is 5% of the state budget. 5% of the state taxes we all pay go to education. I do tire of uber "patriots" who wail and gnash their teeth about creeping socialism in our country, yet see nothing wrong with taking others money so their precious little angel can attend a pvt school, where the curriculum could very well include material I would find objectionable.


Caring parents trapped in a failing system need options. Many are not as fortunate as here.

drewski as well as dozens of other sites provide free educational worksheets,for all grade levels and most subjects. Caring parents read with and to their children from a very young age. They do the things required, like spending the time and effort to know what's going on know the teacher. Monitoring grades and homework. Some few school systems are failing. Many are exceptional, the rest fall somewhere in between. People have options, they lack commitment. Is the story of Abraham Lincoln walking miles to borrow books, then reading by candlelight to educate himself a fable?


Union strikes in places like Chicago. What percentage can't read? The divorce rate is what and that's minor compared to the other craziness in a decadent culture getting worse all the time. Crazy Leftist policies (part and parcel of a loose society) before real education? Yeah, it's not bad at all. Other than specials (art, PE and music) how about focusing on the science of reading and of course math as much as possible in the 6 hours or so per day in the lower grades. Then, maybe the unfortunate ones who don't have a home life will learn to read and prosper in spite of the adult failings in govt, education, etc.


Union strikes and the divorce rate, hmm after 4 yrs of maga media cheerleading, their constant gloom and doom sine trump lost the election seems to be having its intended effect. Despite what you read and see from some media sources...the sky is NOT falling.


Okay, the sky is rising.


"The monopolies of education" by Donald P. Nielsen. Transforming education could be in the cards for some folks. Will parents cause transformation? May not be all that easy in union-controlled schools. Interesting that transforming is taking place in states like MS, AZ, and TN. Maybe even in NC with science of reading.

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