Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities
- Education Savings Account (ESA)
- Enacted 2021
- Launched 2022
North Carolina’s Personal Education Student Account for Children with Disabilities 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 ($17,000 for students with certain disabilities) 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, legal history and regulations on this page.
*Please note that this program replaces both the Personal Education Savings Account Program and the Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities Program through legislative action in the 2021 state budget. As part of this action, additional funding has been allocated for the 2020–21 fiscal year. Currently, applications are closed to new students and will reopen March 1.
We do not administer this program.
The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) awards certain students with special needs accounts that are loaded each semester with funds for qualified educational and therapeutic uses, including private school tuition. Students may attend public school part-time while receiving partial awards with a maximum value of $4,500. Students attending a non-public educational option will see accounts funded up to $9,000 per student. Additionally, students with certain disabilities such as autism, hearing impairment, moderate to severe intellectual developmental disability, orthopedic impairment or visual impairment can qualify for aid up to $17,000 per student.
Funds may not be used for consumable education supplies, such as paper and pens, or tuition and fees at higher education institutions.
For the current fiscal year, the program is funded through appropriations up to $21,043,000. Starting in 2022–23, funding will be set at $31,643,166 with a $1 million increase each subsequent year.
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 one in 10 North Carolina’s students are eligible for a scholarship and less than 1 percent of students statewide actually use one of North Carolina’s educational choice programs (including the Opportunity Scholarship).
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 ($17,000 for students with certain disabilities).
- 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 action has been taken against this program to date.
Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities 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.