Terry Stoops: A ‘You-Can’t-Scare-Me’ Education Reformer

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The odds have always been against Terry Stoops.

As an advocate for expanding parental choice in education, Terry has been a minority in a world dominated by education bureaucrats. He has faced formidable foes in North Carolina — the education establishment, including the powerful N.C. Association of Educators — that stand against parental empowerment and choice and fight to maintain the status quo.

But Terry has never backed down from the fight, and recently his commitment has produced results.

Since a Republican majority took control of the North Carolina legislature in 2011, Terry has played an even more important role contributing to the policy dialog on schools — and he’s been a leader in reaching common sense reforms.

As Director of Research at the John Locke Foundation, a free-market think tank in Raleigh, North Carolina, Terry has cultivated a simple philosophy: provide more options in education so that families and children may flourish.

“The public school system isn’t going to meet the needs of every child,” Terry said. “Our goal is to ensure that those children who are struggling in their traditional public school have the option to find a school that better meets their needs.”

It’s a unique role in the policy world: bringing a freedom- and choice-centric message to the area of education.


‘A school choice party’

During the 2013 session of the N.C. General Assembly, lawmakers enacted key measures that broaden school choice for North Carolina families. Among them:

  • A $4,200-per-year voucher for children in low-income households to attend a private school and a $6,000-per-year voucher for special-needs children
  • Elimination of teacher tenure in favor of multi-year based contracts and the addition of pay-for-performance for excellent teachers
  • An A-through-F grading system for all public schools, which gives parents a better idea of how the school performs
  • Expansion of charter school availability
  • Easing of home school laws to allow students to participate in alternative forms of instruction, such as co-ops and online courses

Terry described the session as “a school choice party that everyone was invited to.”

“These reforms are on top of the much-needed policy reforms passed in 2011 and 2012,” he said, “such as lifting the cap on charter schools.”

He emphasized that none of the reforms enacted since Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011 should be a surprise, because GOP candidates campaigned on a reform-centric platform.

“This is a research-based approach to reforming public schools that has been in the works since the Republicans took leadership,” Terry said.


An unlikely advocate

Terry admits that he’s an unlikely figure to play so prominent a role in education policy. He came from a background where education wasn’t emphasized. His parents were surprised that he even went to college.

Terry grew up in the small western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa. Raised in a working-class family, he attended public schools his whole life.

“I’ve seen for myself the power of education, and that’s why I decided to go into it,” he said.


Terry hopes to improve the lives of families and children
through broadening choice in education.

While completing his doctorate in education at the University of Virginia, Terry decided a career in academia wasn’t for him. That’s when Terry made a critical choice — to enter the world of conservative think tanks.

“After spending so much time in a higher-education atmosphere, I had become a bit disenchanted with academia,” Terry said. “I wanted to look at opportunities elsewhere.”

Today, Terry finds inspiration from his wife, who is a teacher in the Wake County Public School System, and from his kids, who attend public schools in the county.

“I live education,” he said. “I see it from every possible angle: as a policy analyst, as a husband, and as a father. My life is education.”

Although Terry has high praise for what’s been accomplished in the Tar Heel State, he continues to look to the future — to making the reality of school choice available to all families.

“We have to get rid of a one-size-fits-all mentality,” he said, “and decide how best to serve both teachers and students, how to be more flexible, how to expand charter schools, and how to ensure that parents have more of a say in the education of their kids.”


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To learn more about the John William Pope Foundation’s support for public-policy nonprofits like the John Locke Foundation, click here.


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