More than 70,000 NC families want a new private school voucher. Who will get one?

March 5, 2024

A record-breaking total of nearly 72,000 families applied this year for state funding to help them pay for the cost for attending a North Carolina private school, making it unlikely all of them will get the money they want.

State lawmakers overhauled the Opportunity Scholarship program to allow any family to apply this year for a private school voucher. The result is a more than 500% increase in applications this year over the 11,617 applications that were received in February 2023.

Demand remained high from the start of the application period on Feb. 1 to its end on Friday evening. The N.C. State Education Assistance Authority said the number of applications exceeds the $293.5 million in state funding currently available for vouchers.

“We anticipated an incredible surge in applications for the Opportunity Scholarship Program based on what we heard from parents, families, and school communities since the eligibility expansion was passed by the state legislature last year,” Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said in an email Tuesday.

Long’s group was paid by the state to promote the program to parents.


State lawmakers created the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2013, originally promoting it as a way to help low-income families escape failing public schools. There have been 32,341 scholarships awarded this school year.

Now a family’s income will only determine how much it will receive, ranging from $3,360 to $7,468 per child for the 2024-25 school year.

Additionally, lawmakers dropped requirements that students had to previously attend a public school to get a voucher.

Heather Koons, a spokesperson for Public Schools First NC, said the group isn’t surprised by the application numbers given how legislators “opened the “floodgates” with the eligibility changes. At a time when public schools need more money, Koons said the state will now be subsidizing the tuition costs of some families who were already attending private schools.

“We’ve got this huge fund that will be supporting schools that are religious and are often very discriminatory,” Koons said in an interview. The state has not yet provided figures showing how many of the 72,000 applications came from new as opposed to existing private school families.


First priority will go to voucher recipients who are renewing their Opportunity Scholarship. All new applicants will be grouped into one of four tiers based on their family income.

The NCSEAA will hold a random lottery in early April starting with applications from Tier 1, which are the families with the lowest income. The NCSEAA will then go through the remaining tiers until the money runs out or they’re out of applicants. If the NCSEAA runs out of money, applicants will be placed on a waiting list.

The agency says 19% of the applicants are from Tier 1. For a family of four, that works out to a maximum household income of $57,720 a year. They’ll get the maximum award of $7,468 per child. Families in Tier 2 accounted for 26% of the applications. That’s a maximum annual income of $115,440 for a family of four. They’d be eligible for $6,722 per child.

The remaining application breakdown is 37% for Tier 3 and 18% for Tier 4.

“At this time, after awarding renewal families, we expect to award all eligible new Tier 1 families by early April and will have a better sense at that time about whether we have sufficient funds within the existing budget to award some Tier 2 families,” the NCSEAA said in an email Monday. “Should the enacted budget include additional funds for the program, we would continue awarding families at that time.”


State lawmakers are planning to increase voucher funding by $1.7 billion over the next nine years. But Long of Parents for Educational Freedom says legislators should consider adding even more money.

“Demand for OSP by low-income and working-class families is so strong that some of them could be sitting on the waitlist this year, and because of that we encourage lawmakers at the General Assembly to continue expanding access to Opportunity Scholarships as soon as possible,” Long said.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has been calling for a moratorium on expansion of the voucher program, saying the money should instead be spent on public schools.

“(Cooper) needs to look at the historic demand for this program and realize he is on the wrong side of history when it comes to parental school choice in North Carolina,” Long said.