Nearly one in five students in North Carolina is educated in charter, private or home schools. Enrollment in these types of schools — frequently called “schools of choice –has exploded in North Carolina from approximately 200,000 in 2008 to over 345,000 in 2018. Earlier this year, school choice programs reported a waiting list of approximately 60,000 students.
To respond to these growing demands, earlier today Senators Deanna Ballard (R-Alleghany) and Ben Clark (D-Cumberland) introduced bipartisan legislation (SB 609) to expand school choice programs in North Carolina. The legislation specifically expands eligibility for choice programs in four ways.
First, the bill eliminates the requirement that no more than 40 percent of new Opportunity Scholarship recipients be kindergarten or first grade students.
Second, eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship Program is expanded from 133 percent of free and reduced lunch eligibility to 150 percent.
Third, the legislation enhances opportunities for children with special needs by making eligibility requirements for the Special Needs Grant the same as those for Special Needs Education Savings Account.
Fourth and lastly, the legislation would make gifted 4-year-olds — who are mature enough to enter kindergarten early — eligible for all choice programs.
The bill is welcome news for supporters of school choice in North Carolina. We’ll be watching closely to make sure lawmakers remain committed to expanding educational options for all North Carolina families.