Opportunity Scholarships: 13,511 low income families get first tier awards

Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, speaks at a press conference in support of Opportunity Scholarships. Photo courtesy of David Cobb, Office of House Rules Chairman Destin Hall.

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  • In record-breaking demand more than 72,000 applications flooded North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship program this February.

As expected, renewal families and new applicants in the lowest income segment have been offered Opportunity Scholarships for the upcoming school year in North Carolina.

The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, or NCSEAA, announced March 30 that 13,511 new students in the first award tier have been offered scholarships. Renewal families — those already enrolled in the program — have also been offered scholarships. Families have until April 19 to accept or decline the award offer.

This year, a total of over 72,000 applications were received for Opportunity Scholarships, which are designed to enable families to choose a private school education for their children. Demand was so high in the first hours of the application period that the application website shut downThere was also unprecedented demand in the first week.

According to an NCSEAA press release, families in the second income tier will be notified in early May after it’s known how many tier one families will accept the awards. At present, there aren’t funds available to award tier three or four families. In the upcoming short session of the General Assembly, lawmakers could increase funding to cover the cost of some or all of the remaining applicants.

“If additional funds become available, NCSEAA will notify families as soon as possible,” the NCSEAA statement reads.

“The growing demand for educational options for families is one of biggest stories of the last ten years,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “To its credit, the legislature has tried to respond to the growing parent demand for school choice. The demand has been strong, stronger than many policymakers thought it would be. During the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will have the chance to demonstrate their commitment by providing funding for all Opportunity Scholarship applicants. Without the additional funding, parents will likely view expansion as just another broken promise.”

The income tiers and amount of each Opportunity Scholarship are as follows for a family of four:

  • Tier one: $57,720 income per year, $7,468 per scholarship
  • Tier two: $115,440 income per year, $6,722 per scholarship
  • Tier three: $259,740 income per year, $4,480 per scholarship
  • Tier four: Over $259,740 income per year, $3,360 per scholarship

For the 2022-2023 school year, the average Opportunity Scholarship award amount was $5,266 per student. For the current school year, there are 32,341 students enrolled. There is an estimated $293.5 million in state funding available for the scholarships for the upcoming school year, an amount that is set to ramp up significantly next in the future.