by Kaitlyn Shepherd
Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
A bill to expand North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) by removing income eligibility requirements advanced to the state Senate.
Yesterday afternoon, the NC House approved House Bill 823, commonly referred to as the “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future” bill. This proposal would remove the OSP’s existing income eligibility requirements and replace them with a sliding-scale system in which household income determines the size of the voucher.
As the Carolina Journal has explained:
“Using the example of a family of four, the new law would give first priority to households earning $55,500 a year or less, second priority to those earning $111,000 a year or less, third priority to those earning, $249,750 a year or less, and then any remaining funds would be available to households earning incomes higher than these.
“The value of each scholarship would also ratchet down based on income. Lower income households would qualify for 100% of the scholarship — around $7,400 this year — while the next three categories would receive 90%, 60%, and 45%, respectively.”
House Bill 823 is similar to Senate Bill 406, which received a favorable vote from the Senate Education Committee and was referred to another Senate committee on April 26.
House Bill 823 is making the most headway, but before either bill becomes law, it must be passed by both chambers and head to the governor’s desk. Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed completely defunding the OSP more than once and would likely veto any bill to expand the program. However, now that Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, they could override a veto and ensure that OSP expansion becomes law.
It is also possible that OSP expansion could be rolled into the budget. The Senate’s biennial budget proposal, released Monday, incorporates provisions of Senate Bill 406 and proposes “increasing the amount in the scholarship fund by almost $60 million by the end of the biennium.”
The Senate version of the budget differs significantly from the House’s original proposal, released in March. The two chambers will have to reconcile their differences before a final version can be sent to the governor.
If OSP expansion becomes law, North Carolina would join multiple other states in passing legislation to dramatically expand school choice. Since 2022, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Utah, West Virginia, and Florida have all passed universal Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a type of school choice program that gives families a state-funded account that can be used for a variety of educational expenses, including tuition, instructional materials, tutoring costs, educational therapies, and more. North Carolina has implemented an ESA for students with special needs since 2018.
2023 is already being heralded as the “Year of Universal Choice.” Will North Carolina join the club? The exact path forward is uncertain, but the future looks bright.