Applications for some 20,000 private school scholarships designed for low- and middle-income families opened this week for the 2022-23 school year, launching what promises to be another robust year of growth for school choice in the Tar Heel State.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, in existence since 2013, enables North Carolina families of moderate means to send their children to a private school. More than 16,000 students received the scholarship for the 2020-21 school year, at an average scholarship amount of $3,916, according to the American Federation for Children.

Starting with the upcoming school year, Opportunity Scholarships will provide up to $5,900 a year in tuition support and be available to higher-income families. The revised program also includes new accommodations for students who left public schools because of the pandemic. The expansions to the program were included in the new state budget passed by a bipartisan majority of the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The priority window for applications opened Feb. 1 and closes March 1. Families that apply after the priority window closes are put on a waitlist. Scholarship award announcements are typically made in April.

“Families are craving school choice like never before and we’re excited to see how many children will benefit in 2022,” said Allison Guenther, director of external affairs at Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a statewide school choice advocacy group that is helping families determine eligibility for the scholarships.

A recent Civitas Poll of likely voters put support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program at 61%.