North Carolina senators file universal school choice bill

By Jillian Schneider

April 3, 2023

North Carolina Republicans filed a bill last week which would make the state’s school choice program universal.

Since the bill has 30 sponsors, it already has enough votes to override a potential veto, according to Corey DeAngelis, a leading school choice advocate.

SB 406 expands North Carolina’s current scholarship program, making it possible for all K-12 students to be eligible, regardless of whether they previously attended a public school.  

It also forgoes setting a predetermined scholarship amount, instead stipulating that the grant will not exceed the average state per pupil funding or the tuition and fees of the nonpublic school the student will attend.  

“Education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that is why families are clamoring for school choice options,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-Hanover, in a statement. “While Democrats continue to try to abolish the popular Opportunity Scholarship program, Republicans in the Senate have made it a goal to continue expanding school choice.”  

The same statement, made with Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, and Sen. Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, accuses Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of trying to eliminate the current scholarship program despite strong bipartisan support from North Carolinians.  

Opponents of the school choice complained that the program would hurt public schools. 

“A greater share of taxpayer money will be siphoned away from local public and charter schools that educate the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s children to affluent families who send their children to private schools,” said Matt Ellinwood, director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project.  

While many public school advocates argue that school choice primarily benefits high-income students in private schools, the reality is that programs like North Carolina’s actually help low-income students attend private schools that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.  

“[Senate Bill 406] prioritizes lower-income families to receive the most scholarship assistance,” noted Mike Long, president of Parents For Educational Freedom in N.C. “This is an incredible approach to funding students over systems.  

If SB 406 becomes law, scholarships will become available as soon as the 2025-2026 school year.