Only one day after a favorable vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the North Carolina State Senate approved legislation (HB 823) to eliminate the waitlist for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The vote was 28–15, with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill and all Democrats opposing it. Seven legislators did not vote.

The bill provides an additional $248 million to the Opportunity Scholarship Program to eliminate the waitlist and another $24.7 million to eliminate the waitlist for the Education Student Accounts (ESA+) Program, which benefits students with disabilities. The bill also authorizes another $215.4 million in recurring funds to the Opportunity Scholarship reserve fund.

All told, the bill does a good job of dealing with the exploding interest in North Carolina’s popular school choice programs. The legislation approved last fall placed a priority on low-income applicants. However, the legislation removed income caps and made all families eligible to apply for scholarships. The only difference among applicants is the size of the award, with lower income students receiving 100 percent of the previous year’s state per-pupil expenditure. Other eligible applicants would receive a smaller percentage of that award based on household income.

School choice advocates owe a big thank you to all senators who supported this legislation. A special thank you and a tip of the hat are reserved to Sens. Ralph Hise, Mike Lee, and Amy Galey, who did an excellent job of stating the case for why the program needs to be expanded and effectively countered criticism from opponents of the program. Thank you!

The bill now goes to the House, where some say it may be heard next week. We’ll see.