Nearly 72,000 applications were received for the expanded Opportunity Scholarship program in North Carolina by the close of the priority application window March 1, according to new data from the state government agency that oversees the program.

That record-breaking number more than doubles the current number of recipients. 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.

Opportunity Scholarships are meant to help families off-set the cost of a private school education for their kids. The new program is a massive expansion passed in 2023 that opens scholarships to all families, regardless of income, and expands the piggy bank for the program to more than $505 million in reserve funds by the 2031-2032 school year. Prior to this year, the program was only available to poor, working class, and some middle class families.

Families already receiving Opportunity Scholarships get first priority for renewals. 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. 

Assuming any funds remain, students in the third and fourth tiers are offered scholarships in a lottery as well. These income levels have drawn the most scrutiny: For the third tier, it’s those making $259,740 or less for a family of four, while the fourth tier is any household income above the third tier maximum amount.

According to data provided by the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority, 45% of new applicants fall into tiers one or two, while the remaining 55% are in tiers three and four.

Source: NCSEAA

“These numbers confirm what we’ve known for a long time:  parents want to be able to choose the best educational option for their children and the Opportunity Scholarship Program is a popular vehicle for parents to do so,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Some program supporters express concern over the percentage of higher income applicants. Once moderate and lower income households are more familiar with the program, the percentage of households in the lower tiers will likely increase.”

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.