Cotham introduces Opportunity Scholarship expansion in NC House

By David Bass

By April 20, 2023

Newly minted Republican Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County is the primary sponsor of the House version of a bill that would dramatically expand school choice across North Carolina.

The move is significant because it signals that Cotham would be a crucial 72nd vote in the House chamber to override a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is also a primary sponsor on the measure, giving it extra weight.

House Bill 823; Choose Your School, Choose Your Future; would expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program to all students in a tiered system based on household income. Under the current system, Opportunity Scholarships are only available to low- and moderate-income families. The scholarships empower families to afford tuition at the private school of their choice.

“This is an incredible step towards funding students over systems in North Carolina, as leaders now in the state House and Senate have introduced legislation that will further empower families to place their tax dollars into their child’s backpack allowing them to attend the school of their choice,” said Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. “H.B. 823, like the bill’s companion in the Senate, also prioritizes lower-income families to receive the most scholarship assistance. I applaud Representatives Cotham, Willis, Loftis, and Speaker Moore for spearheading this effort and I encourage their colleagues in the House, from both sides of the aisle, to co-sponsor this legislation.”

H.B. 823 is identical to a bill introduced in the Senate in late March. Using the example of a family of four, the new law would give first priority to households earning $55,500 a year or less, second priority to those earning $111,000 a year or less, third priority to those earning, $249,750 a year or less, and then any remaining funds would be available to households earning incomes higher than these.

The value of each scholarship would also ratchet down based on income. Lower income households would qualify for 100% of the scholarship — around $7,400 this year — while the next three categories would receive 90%, 60%, and 45%, respectively.

The measure also bumps funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Reserve Fund.

Cotham sent a Tweet yesterday on the bill saying, “Children first.”

Republican lawmakers have also introduced a bill that would phase out Opportunity Scholarships over several years and replace them with a universal Education Savings Account.