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North Carolina – Opportunity Scholarships

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North Carolina – Opportunity Scholarships

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarships program was enacted in 2013 and launched in 2014. It provides private school vouchers to children of low-income households. Families can use these school vouchers to pay for tuition, transportation, equipment, and other necessary private school expenses. Learn more about this program’s eligibility requirements, rules, and regulations on this page.

Program Fast Facts

  • 3,666 participating students (2015–16)

  • 43 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide

  • 330 participating schools (2015–16)

  • Average voucher value: $3,633 (2015–16)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 48 percent

Program Details

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program Participation

Students Participating
School Year

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

North Carolina provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools chosen by their parents.

Student Funding

The maximum voucher amount allowed is $4,200, not to exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees. The vouchers may be used for tuition, transportation, equipment, or any other items required by qualifying private schools. Total funding was increased to $17.6 million in 2015–16 and up to $24.8 million in 2016–17, a 129 percent increase over 2014–15 funding levels, and total funding will increase to $44 million for 2017–18.

Student Eligibility

Students are eligible to receive vouchers if their family income does not exceed 133 percent of the guidelines needed to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program ($59,790 for a family of four in 2016–17). Students must also have been attending a public school during the previous semester. Kindergartners, first graders, foster children, and children that have been adopted in the past year qualify for vouchers without having to attend a public school.

Friedman Feedback

Like many other voucher programs around the nation, North Carolina’s income-based program could be improved on both per-student funding and eligibility. The scholarship cap of $4,200 per student per year is significant, yet could be improved to more closely align with funding levels the child would have received to attend a public school. Private schools that decide to accept Opportunity Scholarship students do face significant regulations as well, including a requirement to report nationally standardized test performance to the government if they enroll 25 or more scholarship students. It is good that North Carolina allows private schools to choose among nationally norm-referenced tests; however, the state should remove the government reporting requirement and instead require results be reported to parents to maximize administrative flexibility for private schools.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: 133 percent x FRL
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Voucher Cap: $4,200
  • Testing Mandates: National

 

School Requirements:

  • Meet state nondiscrimination policies
  • Comply with health and safety requirements
  • Be accredited by the state board of education, a national or regional accrediting agency, or an active member of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, or receive no funding from state government
  • Provide the state with documentation for tuition and fees charged
  • Conduct criminal background check on staff member with highest decision-making authority
  • Provide parents with an annual written explanation of the student’s progress, including scores on standardized achievement tests
  • Annually administer a nationally standardized test to voucher students and provide the test results to the state
  • Provide graduation rates of voucher students to the state
  • Contract with a certified public accountant to perform a financial review for schools accepting students receiving more than $300,000 in voucher grants

Governing Statutes

N.C. Rev. Stat. §§ 115C-562.1 through 562.7

Legal History

On July 23, 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld all aspects of the state’s two vouchers, the Opportunity Scholarship Program and the Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities, as constitutional. Hart v. North Carolina; Richardson v. North Carolina.

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