North Carolina’s Personal Education Savings Account program was enacted in 2017 and will begin providing funding to students in the 2018–19 school year. This educational choice program, the state’s third, serves some students with special needs and can be used in conjunction with the state’s two voucher programs. The sixth education savings account (ESA) program in the nation, North Carolina’s Personal Education Savings Account provides families funds to pay for a variety of educational services. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations on this page.
North Carolina’s Personal Education Savings Account program provides families of students with special needs who meet the federal definition of a “child with disabilities” under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) a debit card tied to an account with a maximum annual allocation of $9,000 for educational and therapeutic uses, including private school tuition. The accounts may also be used for education-related transportation.
The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) will award certain students with special needs debit cards tied to accounts that are loaded quarterly with funds for qualified educational and therapeutic uses. NCSEAA will deposit funds in equal amounts once per quarter into the accounts. The maximum value for an ESA is $9,000 per student per year. Funds may not be used for consumable education supplies, such as paper and pens, or tuition and fees at higher education institutions. The North Carolina Assembly appropriated $3.4 million to the state’s ESAs for the 2018–19 school year; $450,000 of that appropriation is allocated for the administration of the program.
To qualify, students must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and be identified as having special needs under the IDEA definition of a “child with disabilities,” including autism, an intellectual disability, a hearing or visual impairment, a speech or language impairment, a serious emotional disturbance, an orthopedic impairment, a traumatic brain injury, another health impairment and/or a specific learning disability. Students must also (1) have attended public school during the previous semester, (2) be entering kindergarten or first grade, (3) be in foster care, (4) have been officially adopted the previous year, (5) be a dependent of an active-duty military member or (6) are enrolled part time in public school and part time in a private school that exclusively provides services to children with special needs.
North Carolina’s ESA program provides a flexible educational choice vehicle for students with special needs. Families receive regular funds on their ESA debit cards and are not pressed with overly regulated application or procurement processes. The program allows a wide range of services for students with a wide range of disabilities. The maximum account amount is low compared to other school choice programs for students with special needs, considering special education is often more costly than general education. Ideally, states would cover the full cost of educating children based on their specific conditions. Fortunately, North Carolina’s ESA may also be combined with the state’s existing voucher for students with specific special needs who are attempting to use the programs for the first time, including autism, developmental disabilities, hearing impairment, moderate or severe intellectual disabilities, permanent orthopedic impairments and visual impairments—a feature not found with all ESAs. That means students with the highest need will have access to additional funding. However, restricting the ESAs only to students with special needs and the requirement for most students to first be enrolled in a public school the prior semester limits families’ abilities to make the educational choices that are best for their children. This program should be expanded to make all North Carolina students eligible.
Parent must sign an agreement to:
G.S. 115C-567.5 through 567.13
No legal challenges have been filed against this program.