PEFNC Applauds Legislation That Would Expand Eligibility for School Choice Programs

Raleigh, NC (May 8, 2019) – Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) applauds bipartisan legislation passed today by the North Carolina Senate.Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Senators Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), Ben Clark (D-Cumberland), and Todd Johnson (R-Union), expands access to the state’s three parental school choice K-12 programs.

Under the bill, more low-income and working-class families, plus those with students with special needs, would have access to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Children with Disabilities Grant, and Education Savings Account.

“We’ve heard from families across North Carolina who would benefit from these important policy changes,” said PEFNC President Mike Long. “The time is right to take these important steps forward to strengthen our choice programs, which are providing thousands of families in our state with access to the schools that they feel are the best fit for their children. We urge members of the House to support this bill as it now heads to their chamber.”

The legislation improves access to these parental choice programs in three ways, none of which impose an additional cost on the state:

  • Expanded income eligibility guidelines for Opportunity Scholarships: Increases eligibility guidelines for Opportunity Scholarships from 133 percent of free and reduced lunch eligibility criteria to 150 percent. 
  • Expanded access to the programs for more families: Current law puts a 40-percent cap on how many students in kindergarten and first grade may be eligible for Opportunity Scholarships. The bill would eliminate that cap. Additionally, the bill would expand eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships, the Children with Disabilities Grant, and Education Savings Accounts to gifted four-year-olds entering kindergarten early. (Right now, the law limits access to five-year-olds.)
  • Streamlined access to the Children with Disabilities Grant: The bill also streamlines eligibility requirements for the Grant to match those of Education Savings Accounts. This would increase the chances of students currently enrolled in private school in securing a scholarship.

Demand for all three educational choice programs remains strong. Applications for Opportunity Scholarships have more than doubled since the program was created in 2013, with nearly 8,200 new families submitting applications for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year. Currently, a combined 11,426 students in North Carolina benefit from at least one of the three scholarship programs.

“These programs are breaking down barriers to success. We hear from families across our state who are currently on the outside of these programs looking in and they are desperately seeking a chance to provide better educational opportunities for their children. We’ve come a long way through the Opportunity Scholarship, the Disabilities Grant and the Special Needs ESA. Let’s not walk back that progress,” Long added. “Any conversation about scaling back these important programs is short-sighted and prioritizes systems over families and children. I applaud our leaders in the Senate, including bipartisan sponsors of this legislation, for ensuring the needs of families and children are met.”