Raleigh – Three state senators, one Democrat and the other two Republicans have introduced a bipartisan bill to expand school choice programs in North Carolina. Senators Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), Ben Clark (D-Hoke), and Todd Johnson (R-Union) today introduced Senate Bill 609 to expand eligibility for several school choice programs.
The bill would:
- Opportunity Scholarships, which provide low-income parents with up to $4,200 to send their children to a school of their choice;
- the Disabilities Grant program, which provides students with disabilities up to $8,000 for expenses related to education; and
- the Education Savings Account program, which also provides students with disabilities up to $9,000 for costs associated with education.
Since the Opportunity Scholarship’s inception in 2013, applications for the program have more than doubled. In the 2018-19 school year, 11,935 applications were submitted, 7,593 scholarships were offered, and 5,257 scholarships were accepted.
Senators Ballard and Johnson said, “Parents, not politicians, should choose which school is the best fit for their children. No student should be denied the best possible education because of family income, ZIP code, or color. These programs ease or eliminate the financial barrier and support and empower parents themselves to help their kids find success.”
Senator Clark said, “Parents, are the ultimate accountability check regarding the overall efficacy of the educational experience provided to their children. These programs mitigate financial barriers to parents with limited fiscal flexibility and empowers them to seek and choose alternatives for their kids to match them with the optimal educational environment for achieving success.”
The legislation expands eligibility for the programs in four ways, none of which imposes any additional costs.
First, under current law, only 40 percent of new Opportunity Scholarship recipients can be kindergarten or first-grade students. The bill eliminates that cap. Second, it increases eligibility guidelines for Opportunity Scholarships from 133 percent of free and reduced lunch eligibility criteria to 150 percent. Third, the legislation expands education opportunities for children with disabilities by streamlining eligibility requirements for the Children with Disabilities Grant to match Education Savings Accounts. Fourth, the bill extends eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships, Children with Disabilities Grants, and Education Savings Accounts to gifted four-year-olds determined to be mature enough to enter kindergarten early.
Of the 2018-19 Opportunity Scholarship recipients: 12% are Hispanic; 1% are American Indian or Alaskan Native; 2% are Asian; 29% are Black or African American; 0.1% are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; 4% are two or more races; 49% are White; and 15% chose not to answer.