- Enacted 2013
- Launched 2014
North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program 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.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2021)
of Families with Children Income-eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (Fall 2021)
Average Voucher Value (projected 2020–21)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program Participation
The maximum voucher amount allowed is $4,200, not to exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees. This maximum amount is reserved for students from families earning at or below the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program ($48,470 in 2020–21). Families earning above this threshold up to 133 percent of FRL ($64,465 for a family of four in 2020–21) may qualify for vouchers worth up to 90 percent of tuition. The vouchers may be used for tuition, transportation, equipment or any other items required by qualifying private schools. Total funding increased to $74.8 million for 2020–21.
Students are eligible to receive vouchers if their household income does not exceed 133 percent of FRL ($64,465 for a family of four in 2020–21). Students must also have attended a public school during the previous semester. Kindergartners, first graders, foster children, dependents of full-time active military members and children that have been adopted in the past year qualify for vouchers without having to attend a public school.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
North Carolina’s voucher program for students helps more than ten thousand students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do much more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the voucher is limited to 246 percent of the federal poverty line (133% of the income limits for the federal free-and-reduced lunch program). Only 42 percent of North Carolina’s students are eligible for a scholarship and only 0.8 percent of students statewide actually use one of North Carolina’s three educational choice programs (including the Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities and Personal Education Savings Accounts).
The average voucher value is about $4,000, which is about 40 percent of the average expenditure per student at North Carolina’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, North Carolina policymakers should expand eligibility to all students.
North Carolina’s voucher program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 133 percent x FRL
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Budget Cap: $74.8 million (2020–21)
- Voucher Cap: $4,200
- Testing Mandates: National
- Not discriminate with respect to the categories listed in 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, as that statute read on January 1, 2014
- 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 that accept students who receive more than $300,000 in voucher grants
On July 23, 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld all aspects of the state’s voucher for children of low-income households, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, as constitutional. The lower court decision in Hart v State, No. 13 CVS 16771 (August 28, 2014), was overturned. Hart v. State, 774 S.E.2d 281 (N.C. 2015); Richardson v. State, 774 S.E.2d 304 (2015)
Although the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled vouchers constitutional several years ago, the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) challenged the program as applied on July 27, 2020. The lead plaintiff, who is president of NCAE, alleged the program lacks standards, discriminates based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and transgender status, and needs not provide any secular education. Pending. Kelly v. State, Wake County Superior Court, Case 20-CVS-8346.
Opportunity Scholarships State Groups
That Support School Choice
Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina is a non-profit organization that advocates for quality educational options through parental school choice.
We help North Carolina pay for education. We are the State agency that promotes access to education by administering financial aid and savings programs, informing students and families about paying for education, teaching educators about financial aid administration, and advocating for resources to support students.