School Choice Expansion Bill Filed in NC Senate, Opens Opportunity Scholarships to All Families
Proposal would be the largest expansion of school choice since the program was created if enacted
Families with the most need will receive the highest scholarship amount
Raleigh, N.C. — Today, Senate Education Committee Chairs Sens. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Amy Galey (R-Alamance), and Senate Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Barnes (R-Nash) filed legislation to overhaul school choice in North Carolina and open the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program to all families seeking to send their children to a school that best fits their educational needs.
Senate Bill 406 — “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future” — removes the income eligibility requirements for the Opportunity Scholarship program, and instead awards scholarships on a sliding scale. Household income would determine the amount awarded, ensuring families that need the most assistance receive the largest scholarships. Grants would be awarded as follows:
- Children in households with an income at or below the amount required to qualify for free and reduced lunch — $55,500 for a family of four — would receive up to 100% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year, for a maximum award of $7,213 in FY 2023–24.
- Children in households with an income from 100% to 200% of the free and reduced lunch threshold — maximum $111,000 for a family of four — would be eligible for a maximum award of 90% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year, for a maximum award of $6,492 in FY 2023–24.
- Children in households with an income from 200% to 450% of the free and reduced lunch threshold — maximum $249,750 for a family of four — would be eligible for a maximum award of 60% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year, for a maximum award of $4,328 in FY 2023–24.
- All other students would be eligible for a maximum award of 45% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year, for a maximum award of $3,246 in FY 2023–24.
If enacted, the proposal would be the largest expansion of school choice in North Carolina since the Opportunity Scholarship program was created.
For years, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed eliminating the Opportunity Scholarship program, but it remains popular among North Carolinians. A recent poll found that 68% of North Carolina voters support expanding Opportunity Scholarships. The same poll found that 50% of registered Democrats and 62% of Republicans strongly support expanding the program.
“Education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that is why families are clamoring for school choice options,” Sen. Lee said. “While Democrats continue to try to abolish the popular Opportunity Scholarship program, Republicans in the Senate have made it a goal to continue expanding school choice.”
Sen. Galey said: “Education funds should follow the student, and we must fund students not systems. Expanding Opportunity Scholarships encourages school choice and broadens the options available to families. We must empower moms and dads to make the best decisions for their children.”
Sen. Barnes said: “It’s often a challenge for parents to find the right fit for their child within the public school setting and this expansion will be an enormous benefit to families who are seeking educational options for their children, especially in rural areas. The new pathway to graduate high school in three years is a win-win for students seeking to complete their education as well as for businesses in need of qualified employees.”
The bill also requires the State Board of Education to create a new course schedule for public school students to allow them to graduate high school early and pursue a two- or four-year post-secondary program. It creates a new Early Graduate Scholarship Program that will work hand-in-hand with the course schedule to encourage those students who graduate early to attend either a UNC System school, a North Carolina community college, or an eligible private college in North Carolina.