Personal Education Savings Accounts
- Education Savings Account (ESA)
- Enacted 2017
- Launched 2018
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) 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. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations on this page.
We do not administer this program.
Students Participating (Fall 2020)
Participating Schools (Fall 2020)
Average Account Value (projected 2020–21)
Average Account Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
of Students Eligible Statewide
North Carolina Personal Education Savings Accounts Participation
The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) awards certain students with special needs accounts that are loaded quarterly with funds for qualified educational and therapeutic uses, including private school tuition. Students may attend public school part-time while receiving partial ESAs worth $4,500 if the private school they attend exclusively serves students with special needs. NCSEAA deposits funds in equal amounts once per quarter into the accounts. The maximum value for a full 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 and is slated to remain at the same level pending legislative action; $250,000 of that appropriation is allocated for the program’s administration.
To qualify, students must have an Individualized Education Program and be identified as having special needs under the IDEA definition of a “child with disabilities.” These include 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.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
North Carolina’s ESA program for students with special needs helps hundreds of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do much more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the ESA is limited to students in grades K–12 who have had an IEP. Only 10 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 Opportunity Scholarships and the Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities).
The average ESA value is about $8,900, which is about 88 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 ESA program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Testing Mandates: National
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Account Cap: $9,000
- Limited to students with special needs
Parent must sign an agreement to:
- Provide an education in the subjects of English language arts, mathematics, social studies and science
- Release the school district from all obligations to educate the student
- Report ESA expenses quarterly
- Use funds only for the qualified education expenses of the eligible student
No legal challenges have been filed against this program.
Personal Education Savings Accounts 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.