This North Carolina school voucher program was enacted in 2013 and launched in 2014. Students with qualifying special needs are eligible to receive school vouchers, which are awarded by semester, rather than school year. Families may use vouchers to pay private school tuition or homeschool services. Learn more about the program’s participation rates, funding, rules and more on this page.
One of 18 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs nationwide
1,754 participating students (2018–19)
11 percent of students eligible statewide
230 participating schools (2018–19)
Average voucher value: $6,765 (2017–18)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 70 percent
North Carolina allows students with special needs to receive vouchers to attend private schools of their parents’ choosing.
Vouchers are worth up to $4,000 per semester ($8,000 per school year) and may be used for private school tuition and special education services, including services provided to home-schooled students. A total of $13.1 million was available for vouchers in 2018–19, and that amount was set to remain available for 2019–20, pending legislative action. Any leftover funds will carry over to the next fiscal year.
To qualify, students must require an Individualized Education Plan and receive special education services on a daily basis. Additionally, students must have either (1) been enrolled in a North Carolina public school during the previous spring, (2) received special education services as a preschooler during the previous semester, (3) received a voucher under this program during the previous semester, (4) be eligible for enrollment in kindergarten or first grade or (5) be a dependent of an active-duty member of the military.
Although North Carolina already improved school choice for students with special needs by shifting from a nonrefundable, individual tax credit for educational expenses to this voucher program, the current policy still has room for improvement. The program is strong on eligibility and clearly is intended to eventually serve all families of children with special needs who think their children would be better served in different schools. In recent years, the funding maximum per student was increased from $6,000 to $8,000 per student per year, and the total funding appropriated was increased by $3 million, which are laudable steps in the right direction. The next step should be to take into account additional funds that many students with disabilities need for required specialized services.
N.C. Rev. Stat. §§ 15C-112.5–9
No legal challenges have been filed against this program. However, 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 court overturned the lower court decision in Hart v. State, No. 13 CVS 16771 (August 28, 2014). Hart v. State, 774 S.E.2d 281 (N.C. 2015); Richardson v. State, 774 S.E.2d 304 (2015).
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