Opportunity Scholarships bill filed in Senate is ‘largest expansion of school choice’

RALEIGH — On the same day the House unveiled its budget proposal, Senate Republicans filed a bill that essentially expands the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) to all K-12 families.

Senate Education Committee Chairs Sens. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Amy Galey (R-Alamance), along with Senate Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Barnes (R-Nash) filed Senate Bill 406, titled “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future.”

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In a press release about the bill, the lawmakers said if the bill is enacted it would be “the largest expansion of school choice since the program was created.”

“Education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that is why families are clamoring for school choice options,” Lee said. “While Democrats continue to try to abolish the popular Opportunity Scholarship program, Republicans in the Senate have made it a goal to continue expanding school choice.”

“Education funds should follow the student, and we must fund students not systems,” said Galey. “Expanding Opportunity Scholarships encourages school choice and broadens the options available to families. We must empower moms and dads to make the best decisions for their children.”

The bill removes the OSP’s current income eligibility requirement of staying within 200% of the Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) cost.

In comparison, the House’s recent budget proposal doesn’t change any of the income eligibility requirements but does expand the program by expanding the requirement of having been a previous public school student in order to apply from K-2 to K-8.

Under Senate Bill 406, the OSP would award scholarships on a sliding scale determined by household income and giving priority to low-income families.

Students in households with income at or below the amount required to qualify for FRL would receive up to 100% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year; a maximum award of $7,213 in FY 2023–24. That income level for a family of four is $55,000.

Students in households with income from 100% to 200% of the FRL threshold, or a maximum of $111,000 for a family of four, would be eligible for a maximum award of 90% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year; a maximum award of $6,492 in FY 2023–24.

Students in households with income from 200% to 450% of the FRL threshold, around a maximum of $249,750 for a family of four, would be eligible for a maximum award of 60% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year; a maximum award of $4,328 in FY 2023–24.

All other students would be eligible for a maximum award of 45% of the average state per-pupil allocation from the prior fiscal year which translates to a maximum award of $3,246 in FY 2023–24.

The bill also requires the State Board of Education to create a new course sequence for public school students to allow them to graduate high school in three years instead of four.

A new Early Graduate Scholarship Program is created in the bill tied to the new course sequence to “encourage those students who graduate early to attend either a UNC System school, a North Carolina community college, or an eligible private college in North Carolina.”

The press release criticized Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper for repeated attempts to eliminate or defund the Opportunity Scholarship program and cites the OSP’s popularity documented in a recent poll showing 68% of North Carolina voters, including 58% of Democrats, support expanding the OSP.

About A.P. Dillon 1339 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_