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As the General Assembly considers bills that would provide vouchers to low-income and special needs students, opponents continue to make unsubstantiated claims about the legislation.  Their latest claim is that, if both bills pass, North Carolina will have one of the nation’s most extensive voucher programs.  Is that accurate?

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Recently, liberals have claimed that passage of two school voucher bills — Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants (House Bill 269) and the Opportunity Scholarship Act (House Bill 944) — will create one of the most extensive voucher programs in the nation. 

I wish!

House Bill 269: Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants sets aside $3 million a year for each of the next two years.  At $6,000 per scholarship, the program will allow approximately 500 special needs students to participate each year.

House Bill: 944: Opportunity Scholarship Act is a bit more complicated because the demand for the scholarships is elastic, that is, dependent on how families respond to the change in the cost of private schooling. The Fiscal Research Division predicts that between 9,248 and 12,406 low-income students will receive scholarships during the 2015-16 school year, the year when the program reaches its $50 million cap.

If the legislature approves HB 269 and HB 944 in their current form, then we would expect, at most, around 13,000 students to receive a voucher.

The first two years of Indiana’s voucher program for low-income students capped enrollment at 7,500 students during the first year and 15,000 students during the second year.  Over 9,300 participated in the voucher program during the 2012-13 school year. 

For the upcoming school year, however, Indiana’s voucher program for low-income students will have no funding or enrollment caps.  The law requires the state to use its public school funding to provide a voucher to every eligible child whose family requests one.  Nevertheless, it caps the voucher amount at $4,700 for the 2013-14 school year and $4,800 for the 2014-15 school year.  My colleagues in the school choice movement estimate that Indiana’s voucher program will enroll more than 15,000 low-income children during the 2013-14 school year.

Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program, a voucher for students in failing public schools, is capped at 60,000 scholarships.  (No, that is not a typo.)  The voucher is capped at $4,250 for elementary and middle school students.  High school students may receive a voucher of up to $5,000.  This year, the Ohio legislature increased funding and broadened eligibility for the program, which enrolled nearly 16,000 students during the last year.  Ohio’s recently approved budget will add 2,000 scholarships for low-income kindergarten students next year and an additional 2,000 scholarships for low-income first graders a year later.  Did I mention that Ohio has three additional voucher programs?

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program enrolls nearly 25,000 low-income children.  The Milwaukee program does not have an enrollment cap but limits the voucher amount to $6,442.  In addition, Wisconsin’s new budget authorizes a statewide expansion of a means-tested voucher program that will cap enrollment at 500 students next year and 1,000 a year later.  The legislature budgeted an average of $192.5 million a year over the next two years for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program alone.

Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to special needs students, had over 23,000 students participating last year.  There are no enrollment caps or income limits.  The value of the voucher is based on the nature of the disability, but the average voucher amount was $6,255.

In terms of enrollment, funding, voucher amount, and eligibility, North Carolina will not come close to having the most extensive voucher program in the nation.  Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida share that honor (and will share it for years to come).

Of course I would like to add North Carolina to that list, but there is no guarantee that the General Assembly will approve the two proposed voucher bills this year or expand them  in future years.

Facts and Stats

Existing Voucher Programs


Voucher Program


Choice Scholarship Pilot Program


Opportunity Scholarship Program


John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program


Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program


Choice Scholarship Program


School Choice Pilot Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities


Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program


Town Tuitioning Program


Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia Program


Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program


Autism Scholarship Program


Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program


Educational Choice Scholarship Program


Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program


Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities


Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program


Town Tuitioning Program


Milwaukee Parental Choice Program


Parental Private School Choice Program (Racine)

Education Acronym of the Week

PEFNC — Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina

Quote of the Week

"Of course, school choice by itself is not a ‘silver bullet’ that will magically cure all our public school woes. That will come only from changed behaviors of both teachers and students in individual classrooms. But choice can pave the way to those changes. In addition to giving public schools financial incentives to get better, it gives them something psychologically indispensable that private schools now have. That is family loyalty. When families choose a private school today, they identify with the school in a way that is different from families who passively accept the school to which they are assigned. This choice-created commitment translates into an active loyalty that schools can draw upon in demanding the best from their families."

Stephen D. Sugarman, "Too Many Liberals Are On the Wrong Side of the School Choice Debate," Congress Monthly, 2000

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