North Carolina’s budget for the new biennium would expand school choice across the state to an unprecedented level.
The budget, slated for votes Thursday morning, would enlarge the piggybank for the Opportunity Scholarship Program — the state’s voucher that enables families to choose a private school education for their children — to $520 million by the 2032-2033 fiscal year.
“Expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program would not only be a game changer for North Carolina families, giving parents a real choice on where they attend schools, the new legislation would help to redefine public education and underscore that not all state-funded education has to be publicly funded, administered and delivered,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation.
The budget also expands eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships to all families in a tiered system based on income. Lower income households would be first priority, while wealthier families would have access if sufficient funds remain available.
Currently, Opportunity Scholarships are only available to families earning 200% or less of the amount required to qualify for the federal free and reduced-lunch program.
Under the new budget, a family of four earning $55,500 a year or less would get first priority, second priority to those earning $111,000 a year or less, third priority to those earning, $249,750 a year or less, and then any remaining funds would be available to households earning incomes higher than these.
The value of each scholarship would also ratchet down based on income. Lower income households would qualify for 100% of the scholarship — around $7,400 this year — while the next three categories would receive 90%, 60%, and 45%, respectively.