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.
North Carolina awards vouchers statewide to students whose families meet certain income requirements.
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 $24.8 million in 2016–17, a 41 percent increase over 2015–16 funding levels, and total funding will increase to $44 million for 2017–18.
Students are eligible to receive vouchers if their household 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 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.
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 face 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.
N.C. Rev. Stat. §§ 115C-562.1 through 562.7
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. Hart v. North Carolina; Richardson v. North Carolina.