Education

Magnets, charters and vouchers bring back-to-school choice

Ninth-grader Peyton Brockman paints the inside of a window at the new Montessori high school, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet that’s temporarily housed at Sedgefield Middle.
Ninth-grader Peyton Brockman paints the inside of a window at the new Montessori high school, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet that’s temporarily housed at Sedgefield Middle. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Call it The Year of Choice: As school bells ring across the Charlotte region Monday, students and their families have a bounty of options.

Charter schools continue to open and expand. The state is offering millions more to help families of modest means send their kids to private schools.

A small but growing number of parents teach their children at home, relying on increasingly sophisticated online education programs.

In Mecklenburg County, the majority of students still go the time-tested route, attending the same public school as the other kids in their neighborhood. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which has long offered a robust menu of magnets, is looking to expand them. In the coming weeks, the school board will decide whether to add programs, revise busing options and tinker with the admission lottery to encourage diversity.

Families aren’t neatly divided into educational camps. Many try various types of schools as needs evolve.

It’s like going to a buffet and they bring another tray.

Carlos Johnson, head of school at Charlotte’s Male Leadership Academy

“You’ve got to get a school that fits what you and your children want,” said Patrick Condon of Cornelius, whose recent choices for three children include two charter schools, home-schooling and a private school.

All options bring challenges. In Raleigh, there’s fierce debate over how many new charter schools to launch and when to close weak ones. Emotions run high in CMS, where people who want to protect schools they love clash with people seeking student assignment changes.

The Opportunity Scholarships provide public money to private schools without any of the quality checks that other schools receiving tax money face.

But as Carlos Johnson, head of school at the private Male Leadership Academy, notes, choice means public education is no longer a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

“It’s good ultimately for the parents, because that’s what the parent has, is a choice,” said Johnson, whose school will have 10 voucher students. “It’s like going to a buffet and they bring another tray.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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