Around 12:15am Thursday morning the website where parents can apply for the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) crashed as people rushed to apply. OSP became universally open to all North Carolina families after the state legislature passed a bill making all income levels eligible on a sliding scale, with families at the lower income levels being served first and receiving the highest scholarship amount.
While families already receiving Opportunity Scholarships get first priority for renewals, the priority window for new families opened Feb. 1 and runs through March 1. The lowest income tier gets first priority on receiving scholarships —$57,720 a year or less for a family of four — and each applicant is entered into a random lottery. The next tier — those making $115,440 annually for a family of four — get the next priority, also by lottery.
The technical problems on this first day of applications indicates a high demand for the program that may prove challenging. Lawmakers appropriated $263.5 million for the program’s reserve fund for the 2023-2024 school year, an amount that increases to $354.5 million for the 2024-2025 school year. The following year, the program gets a significant funding uptick to $416 million.
Earlier this week, Gov. Roy Cooper, a vocal opponent of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, drew attention to the sign up period by firing a broadside at Senate Leader Phil Berger for his comments on “backpack funding.” Backpack funding is a funding model in which state dollars allocated for each student follow that student’s individual education needs, rather than being attached to the school.
In a recent Carolina Journal poll respondents supported the Opportunity Scholarship Program at 64% in support and 26% were opposed.