Opportunity Scholarship Program Safeguards
The five key points below debunk the arguments made against scholarship programs in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Argument #1: The most disadvantaged students will not reap a benefit from this program.
SAFEGUARD: No. The NC Opportunity Scholarship Program targets the most disadvantaged students in our state by limiting eligibility to families whose income is no more than 133% of the amount to quality for free and reduced price lunch (about $59,790 for a family of four).
Argument #2: Students who withdraw from the school and wish to attend another private school cannot take the money with them and are limited in their educational options.
SAFEGUARD: No. Under this program, students who receive a scholarship are allowed to enroll in a different private school and remain eligible to receive the remaining amount of their scholarship. Just because a school is private does not mean it is the best option for a child; therefore, the NC Opportunity Scholarship Program permits the scholarships to be portable and allows parents maximum freedom to choose the school which best fits their child’s needs.
Argument #3: The Opportunity Scholarship Program is not regulated and does not adhere to any over-arching accountability requirements.
SAFEGUARD: No. The NC Opportunity Scholarship Program is required to submit to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee information on the number of eligible students and the total amount of scholarship grants awarded. Additionally, beginning in 2017-18, statute requires that the program submit an annual report on the learning gains of scholarship students (conducted by an independent research organization) to the Department of Public Instruction and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.
Argument #4: Most of the students receiving scholarships do not come from public schools.
SAFEGUARD: No. In its first year of operation, the NC Opportunity Scholarship Program required that students must have been enrolled in public schools the previous semester in order to be eligible. In the 2014-2015 school year and beyond, only students entering kindergarten and first grade have been excluded from this requirement, as well as children adopted within the previous year, or children in foster care. Thus, the overwhelming majority of students who enroll in the program will come from public schools.
Argument #5: There is little financial and academic accountability for participating private schools and scholarship students.
SAFEGUARD: No. The program requires several measures of accountability for private schools, overseen by the State Education Assistance Authority. The safeguards require that private schools provide documentation for required tuition and fees, do not charge any additional fees based on students receiving scholarship grants, and contract with a certified public accountant to perform a financial review yearly if they receive more than $300,000 in scholarship funding.
Additionally, private schools must test scholarship students annually in the areas of English, reading, spelling, and mathematics using a nationally standardized exam. They must provide an annual written explanation of each student’s progress (including scores on any standardized achievement tests) to that student’s parent or guardian, and report to the state test scores and graduation rates for any students receiving scholarship grants. Aggregate test scores will be public record for schools that enroll more than 25 scholarship students. Any private school that fails to comply with these requirements jeopardizes its eligibility to receive future scholarship grants.