As highlighted in a previous article, tucked inside the budget hammered out by the General Assembly are a number of program expansions, increases in various budgets and some new pilot programs.
Another item in the budget concerns the expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The media in North Carolina often calls the OSP a ‘voucher program’.
The program currently provides up to $4,200 for students in K-12 to attend a non-public school of their choice. This money covers tuition and fees associated with the school chosen. View the current list of participating schools.
Eligibility is based on specific household gross income thresholds. For example, in order for a household of two to receive the full $4,200 scholarship award, the gross income threshold is $29,637. View the current list of household income eligibility thresholds.
Within the current appropriations bill, the legislature has included a provision that will increase the number of slots available in the OSP by 2,000 over the course of the next ten years.
The section of HB 1030 citing the 2,000 per year increase reads as follows:
SECTION 11A.3.(e) G.S. 115C‑562.2 is amended by adding a new subsection to read:
“(b1) Beginning with the 2017‑2018 school year, within the funds appropriated by the General Assembly to award scholarship grants to eligible students under this Part, the Authority may award scholarship grants to at least 2,000 more eligible students each school year than were served in the prior school year.“
According to the Opportunity Scholarship data as of 6/28/16, for the 2016-17 school year there were 8,501 new applicants.
The most current data lists 7,283 new and renewal scholarships being offered and 6,018 of them accepted. If all 7,283 were to accept at a rate of the full $4,200, the total funding for these scholarships would total around $30,588,600.
In terms of racial make-up of the applicants, minority students make up 57%, with white students coming in at 40% and 3% listed as “other”.
According to a WRAL article by Laura Leslie on the OSP enrollment increase, Democracy NC’s Larry Hall is concerned about “accountability” of private schools. WRAL cites Hall believes that students and their families choosing non-public schools because they aren’t tested like public school students are.
Mr. Hall is largely incorrect on this point. Private schools are required by state law to administer standardized tests or an equivalent. Ms. Leslie did not counter Mr. Hall’s statements.
Via the Dept. of Administration website, which houses informati0n pertaining to the Dept. of Non-Public Education (DNPE):
In accordance with G.S. 115C-549, 550 and G.S. 115C-557, 558, each private school must administer a nationally standardized test or other nationally standardized equivalent measurement selected by the chief administrator to all students enrolled and regularly attending grades 3, 6, 9, and 11 each year. The nationally standardized test or other equivalent measurement selected by the chief administrator must measure achievement in the areas of English grammar, reading, spelling and mathematics in grades 3, 6, and 9, and must measure competencies in the verbal and quantative areas in grade 11. The test results must be kept on file at the private school for at least one year thereafter, and the test records must be made available at the principal office of the such for annual inspection upon request by a DNPE staff member.
More detailed information assessment information with respect to grade level is located under the requirements section for non-public schools.
The testing requirements mirror that of public schools, with testing occurring in “grades 3, 6 and 9 each school year, a nationally standardized achievement test in the subject areas of English grammar, reading, spelling and math” and “all grade 11 students each school year, a nationally standardized test which measures competencies in the verbal and quantitative areas.”
In the same WRAL article, Mr. Hall also makes the following claim about enrollment:
“The majority of voucher requests are for kindergarten and first grade. Those students obviously cannot say that the public schools have failed them,” he said. “We’re siphoning money off our public schools when we don’t need to.”
That data is not provided in the enrollment information provided by the NCSEAA. Where Mr. Hall is getting this information from is unclear and Ms. Leslie does not follow up on that claim either.
Mr. Hall is also largely incorrect about siphoning money from our public schools. The funding for the OSP comes from it’s own pot of money — the Opportunity Scholarship Reserve Fund. This fund is disbursed by the NC State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA).
What Mr. Hall is likely concerned about is the average daily membership of any given local district dropping and the associated federal dollars. Regardless, Hall’s concerns are not about the child getting the education they deserve or attending the school that is the best fit for them to achieve a quality education, but rather it’s about the dollars attached to the child.
On a related note, House Bill 1095 attempted to raid $11.8 million from the Opportunity Scholarship Reserve Fund, but the bill ultimately was sent to die in the House Appropriations committee. The bill sponsors were all Democrats who reside in districts with large numbers of Opportunity Scholarship recipients and whose school construction costs were busting district budgets.