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Private school choice initiatives are state-sponsored scholarship programs that offset the cost of school tuition, and in some cases related services, for families. Some states, including North Carolina, provide tuition scholarships directly to families; other states have passed programs creating education tax credits for taxpayers who give money to scholarship granting organizations. Some programs allow individuals to receive a tax credit or deduction for education expenses, including tuition.
Private school choice programs are generally created to serve the needs of families that otherwise would not be able to afford private school tuition. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, passed in 1990, is the nation’s longest-running contemporary private school choice initiative. This program currently serves almost 29,000 low-income students.
In 2011, North Carolina offered a tax credit to students with disabilities to provide flexibility in attending a private school and in 2013 North Carolina joined the ranks of states with private school choice programs for low-income students when the General Assembly passed the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).
The Opportunity Scholarship Program is an income-based program and provides scholarships at 90% of public school per pupil spending, equivalent to $6,492 for the 2023-24 school year. Scholarships are renewable annually for eligible families.
OSP has experienced surging popularity and growth with each successive year. To date, North Carolina families have submitted more than 113,000 applications for these scholarships. Forward-funding by the North Carolina General Assembly will ensure OSP continues to expand over the next decade. Click here for PEFNC's 1-pager on OSP, and program eligibility. Click here for PEFNC's 1-pager on OSP, and program eligibility.
Fast Facts on the Opportunity Scholarship Program:
- 24,077 students have accepted Opportunity Scholarships to attend private schools for 2022-23.
- Over 275 low-income students remain on the Opportunity Scholarship waitlist, hoping for a chance
- Over 530 North Carolina private schools currently enroll Opportunity Scholarship students. The number of participating private schools with students enrolled has risen by 140% since 2014-15.
Interested in applying for an Opportunity Scholarship? Learn more here about eligibility requirements, application deadlines, and whether your family might pre-qualify.
Special needs school choice programs help families meet the unique educational challenges and gifts of their children who have disabilities. These publicly-funded programs enable students to attend the school that best addresses their particular needs while offsetting the burden of tuition for their families.
In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Children with Disabilities Tax Credit which was converted into a reimbursable grant program.
In 2017 the North Carolina General Assembly created a second state-sponsored special needs school choice program, the Special Needs Education Savings Account (ESA). Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, these two programs were combined and are now known today as ESA+. This program provides eligible students with a student account and $9,000 that can be used for tuition or related services, like educational therapies. For students with certain diagnoses and higher needs, they may be eligible for $17,000. A unique aspect of this program is that it provides flexibility for a student who wants to attend private school part-time and public school part-time.
This program has historically been underfunded until a significant investment was made in the NC budget that provides forward-funding through 2032-33. Over 4,000 students applied for an ESA for the 2022-23 school year and over $11M has been expended on behalf of students this school year. Learn more about Special Needs ESAs at exceptionalednc.org, or download a 1-pager about the ESA here.