Thousands of new families are demonstrating their desire for greater educational options, reports Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), the state’s leading voice for educational choice. During the Opportunity Scholarship Program’s priority application cycle, which ended March 1, families statewide submitted 5,615 new student applications, according to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA). This represents one of the largest 30-day registration cycles in the Program’s short history.
In addition to these new applications, renewals are expected to number in the thousands. Last year, 90 percent of Program recipients applied to renew scholarships. More than 2,500 students are current recipients, so the total number of 2016-17 applicants may reach or surpass 8,000 once renewals are tallied. The Program application will continue to remain open, so numbers should rise further still.
Spurring interest in the Opportunity Scholarship Program is its newfound freedom from legal entanglement. “The Supreme Court ruling this past July assured parents that their ability to choose the best school for their child could proceed freely, unimpeded by legal obstacles. Now thousands of new families are moving forward to apply for scholarships,” said Darrell Allison, President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
Tina Ingram, whose 13-year-old grandson Anthony received an Opportunity Scholarship in November 2015 to attend Wayne Country Day School in Goldsboro, has also re-applied for 2016-17. Ingram, who is raising her grandson, said she could not afford private school without scholarship funds. Of the Program, she said, “It means a lot to me. I can see that he has a future.” Ingram said Anthony recently described his new school this way: “I found my home.”
Demand for the Program will likely exceed capacity. An estimated 6,200 scholarships are available for 2016-17, so hundreds of students will likely languish on a waitlist unless the Program’s budget is increased.
“We must redouble our commitment to providing a pathway for families to access quality school options, regardless of income or zip code.” Allison said. “Low-income and working-class parents across the state have spoken in a resounding way: they want a choice for their children.”
Passed in July 2013, the Opportunity Scholarship Program creates scholarships of up to $4,200 for low-income and working-class families to attend a private school. To be eligible for a scholarship for the 2016-2017 school year, household income must not exceed 133% of the amount to qualify for free and reduced price lunch (about $59,790 for a family of 4). Families who are interested in the Opportunity Scholarship Program can check their eligibility by visiting http://www.schoolchoicenc.org/Qualify2016 but must apply officially through the NCSEAA.