The revised budget being considered this week by the North Carolina General Assembly would increase funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program and raise income thresholds needed to qualify.
The budget puts an extra $56 million into the reserve fund for the scholarships, which are designed to give low- and moderate-income families the opportunity to leave their locally zoned public school and attend a private school that is a better fit for their children.
The spending plan also raises the income limit to qualify from 175% of the federal free- and reduced- lunch program amount to 200%. The change means that a family of four could qualify for the scholarship earning up to $102,676 per year, while the previous upper limit was $89,842.
“Once again, we are thrilled by the commitment from leaders in the General Assembly to find new ways to expand access to educational choice and options in our state. Without a doubt, school choice has become an essential part of the educational landscape in North Carolina,” said Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
The budget revisions build on recent growth in the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Under the budget passed by lawmakers last year, the maximum scholarship award jumped from $4,200 a year to $5,900 per student. Because of the way the value of each scholarship is now calculated, that dollar amount is $6,168 for the 2022-2023 school year.
The growth of school choice in North Carolina follows a nationwide trend in recent years. On June 24, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill that expands the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to all K-12 students, regardless of their family’s income. Once signed into law, the move will make Arizona the first state with a universal voucher program.
“School choice has never been in higher demand in our state, and programs like the Opportunity Scholarship Program and the Special Needs ESA are helping thousands of families gain access to the school of their choice,” said Long.