New state budget has big gains for school choice in North Carolina

We have exciting news to share! After a long legislative session, the General Assembly has approved a new budget and Gov. Roy Cooper signed it into law today. 

This budget significantly expands school choice across the state! Scholarship programs are extended to more families than ever before and the state will invest in the programs in historic ways.

The budget shows us is that legislative leaders from both political parties remain committed to empowering parents to be the greatest decision-makers in their children’s education and providing the necessary resources to make a high-quality education accessible for more families.

The bottom line is that North Carolina families deserve this budget. These updates and improvements help our state work toward a future where all students—regardless of income or zip code—have the opportunity to experience an exceptional education.
Throughout the session, the PEFNC team has been hard at work advocating on behalf of parents and students. Although this budget is an enormous victory, our work will never be done. We will continue working to ensure school choice scholarship programs are protected and growing, no matter the threats that the educational establishment keeps throwing at us.

Below is a recap of what's in the new budget. We should note that the PEFNC team is working our best to understand every piece of the updates, and we will continue to provide the latest information as it becomes available.

Opportunity Scholarship Program 
  • Scholarship maximum increases from a flat $4,200 to $5,900, which is 90% of the state's public school per pupil spending for a full-time student. As public school per pupil spending increases each year, so would the scholarship amount.
  • Expands eligibility to students who are 4-years-old on or before April 16, if the student is accepted to a private school and is enrolled in Kindergarten.
  • Expands eligibility to students who meet the income criteria and are rising 2nd graders who have not previously attended public school.
  • Expands eligibility to students who meet the income criteria and are children of recently honorably discharged veterans
  • Expands eligibility to students who meet income criteria can qualify if they are both enrolled in private school the spring before the year of the scholarship award and enrolled in public school 2 years before the year of the scholarship award. 
  • Increases income requirements for the student to qualify for free and reduced lunch from 150% to 175% of the amount required—income for a family of four increases from approximately $73,000/year to approximately $85,000/year. 
  • All foster children qualify. Parents' income will no longer be considered for eligibility. 
  • Increases the state's yearly appropriation from $10 million per year to $15 million per year until the 2031-2032 school year. 
  • The state may contract with a nonprofit to provide outreach and assistance to families as they navigate the scholarship process. 
Special Needs Scholarship Grant Programs 
  • Increases funding for the Disabilities Grant by $5.95M and increases funding for the ESA program by $9.65M for the 2021-22 school year. 
  • Combines the Children with Disabilities Grant and Education Savings Account program into one program: NC Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities, with over $31.6M for 2022-23. 
  • Removes public school requirement for this program. 
  • Students are eligible for an award up to $9,000 ($4,500 for part-time students); if a student has certain disabilities, they may be eligible for up to $17,000.
  • For higher need students, funds remaining at end of school year may be carried over, not exceeding $4,500 until expended for each school year upon renewal), never to exceed $30,000.
  • Award deposits will be made by semester, versus quarterly. 
  • Students must show that they have received 70 days of special education that semester. 
  • The State Board of Education shall ensure that public school districts are conducting evaluations when requested by parents and providing assessments for continuing eligibility. 
  • Would receive forward funding and guarantee an additional $1M each year through 2032-33.
In the coming weeks, we'll be setting up a webinar for private school leaders to review the scholarship updates. Keep an eye out for that email invite!