NC lawmakers could boost Opportunity Scholarship funding in short session

Leaders in the General Assembly say they are in discussions over whether to boost funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program due to surging demand.

Around 72,000 new applications were received for the upcoming school year for Opportunity Scholarships, a program that provides between $3,360 and $7,468 a year to allow families to choose a private school education for their kids. Beginning this year, scholarships are prioritized based on four income tiers, with the lowest earning households receiving first priority.

Lawmakers are set to convene for the short session of the General Assembly in late April. The short session’s primary goal is to make budget adjustments for the two-year biennium, in addition to dealing with non-fiscal bills that made the crossover deadline from the 2023 long session.

Making adjustments to Opportunity Scholarship appropriations could be part of that. Unless revisions are made, tens of thousands of families would be put on a waitlist.

“When lawmakers lifted the cap on eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship it gave new hope to millions of families across North Carolina,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “The 72,000 new applicants for the program attests to this fact. If lawmakers approve a universal program, it must be their intent to fund it. To do otherwise wouldn’t make a lot of sense and risk making thousands of families angry and disappointed — in an election year.”

Here’s how the math works. Currently, 32,341 students are receiving Opportunity Scholarships. The NC Education Assistance Authority, the state agency responsible for administering Opportunity Scholarships, does not have data on how many of these students applied for renewals for the upcoming school year. But assuming that 80% of existing applicants successfully renewal, that equals 25,873 students renewing. 

For the 2022-2023 school year, the average scholarship amount was $5,266. If the same holds true for renewals, the cost would be $136,246,218.

There is an estimated $293.5 million available for Opportunity Scholarships for the upcoming school year. That would leave around $157 million available for new applicants.

The breakdown on which income tier the new applicants for the scholarships fall into, and the corresponding dollar amount attached to each, is as follows:

  • Tier 1: 13,680 students, $7,468 for each scholarship = $102,162,240
  • Tier 2: 18,720 students, $6,722 for each scholarship = $125,835,840
  • Tier 3: 26,640 students, $4,480 for each scholarship = $119,347,200
  • Tier 4: 12,960 students, $3,360 for each scholarship = $43,545,600

That’s a total of $390,890,880 for new applicants. Subtracting the estimated $157 million in existing leftover funding, lawmakers would possibly need to allocate around $234 million in new funds for fully fund all scholarships.

As previously reported by Carolina Journal, on the House side, legislators confirmed they are discussing the possibility of increasing funds. On the Senate side, officials remain open to discussing potential funding changes.

“The surge in Opportunity Scholarship applications is the latest sign that North Carolina families value having choice in education,” said Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger. “Just like any other budget item, legislators will discuss potential funding changes as they make budget revisions during the short session.”

“Demand for [Opportunity Scholarships] by low-income and working-class families is so strong that some of them could be sitting on a waitlist this year,” said Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, in a statement. “Because of that we encourage lawmakers at the General Assembly to continue expanding access to Opportunity Scholarships as soon as possible.”

The post NC lawmakers could boost Opportunity Scholarship funding in short session first appeared on Carolina Journal.


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