News: Quick Takes

Special Needs Education Savings Account in high demand

North Carolina’s Special Needs Education Savings Account has seen a surge in applicants, outnumbering the available slots for the school-choice program.

Applications closed April 2 with 1,430 students applying for the 330 open slots. The number of slots was determined by the General Assembly’s allocation of $3 million at $9,000 per scholarship.

Families can receive up to $9,000 with a debit card to pay for school tuition, technology, tutoring, school equipment, or other educational needs. Funds can’t be used for consumable education supplies — such as paper or pencils, or for tuition at higher education institutions. Parents must provide the state with quarterly expenses to show how they’re using the money.

Only students with documented disabilities are eligible for the program. EdChoice, a school choice advocacy group, estimates 10 percent of students are eligible.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a school-choice organization, has been a vocal advocate for the program since its inception last year in the 2017-19 biennium budget.

“While we’re not surprised, we’ve been blown away by the rush of applications for Special Needs ESAs, a clear indicator that families need this crucial assistance for their exceptional students,” said Brian Jodice, interim president of PEFNC. “Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, hundreds of students with special needs will benefit from expanded access to the type of educational tools and instruction they need to thrive.”

The program is the state’s third school-choice program, including from the Opportunity Scholarships and the Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities. North Carolina is the sixth state with an education savings account.

In February, the General Assembly passed House Bill 90 expanding the eligibility for the program to include children who previously attended private school. Before, only students previously enrolled in a public school could apply.