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Applications for Opportunity Scholarships are in. What are the numbers?

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The N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) has confirmed to EdNC that from Feb. 1 through March 1, just under 72,000 new Opportunity Scholarship applications were completed. 

Opportunity Scholarships are state-funded vouchers families can use to pay for eligible private schools. As of Jan. 23, 2024, 32,341 students had Opportunity Scholarships in North Carolina. You can hover on the counties in this map to see how many recipients each county currently has.

A final total number for this year’s application cycle is expected later this week after applications are reviewed for things like duplicates.

What happens next?

The new student applications will be entered into a lottery.

Students who received funding in 2023-24 will renew their funding before the lottery takes place, according to the website.

As funding allows, the lottery will proceed as follows:

  1. Students in Award Tier 1 will be offered an Opportunity Scholarship in order of lottery number.
  2. Students in Award Tier 2 will be offered an Opportunity Scholarship in order of lottery number.
  3. Assuming funds remain available for more awards, students in Award Tier 3 and then Tier 4 will be offered an Opportunity Scholarship in order of lottery number.

Families who applied for scholarships will be notified of their award in April, according to NCSEAA.

Eligible students who are not awarded a voucher will be added to a waitlist and will be considered for a later award if possible, likely in May or June.

What are the tiers?

Courtesy of NCSEAA

Tier 1 students have the lowest household income, receive the maximum scholarship amount of $7,468, and have priority in the lottery.

According to NCSEAA, 19% of the new applications are tier 1 students, 26% are tier 2, 37% are tier 3, and 18% are tier 4.

At this time, after awarding renewal students, NCSEAA says, “we expect to award all eligible new Tier 1 families by early April and will have a better sense at that time about whether we have sufficient funds within the existing budget to award some Tier 2 families.”

“Should the enacted budget include additional funds for the program, we would continue awarding families at that time,” according to NCSEAA.

What we don’t know

What we don’t know is how many of the new applications were for students already in private school.

In 2022-23, there were 126,768 students in private schools in North Carolina (data is released in July, so that’s the most recent data). The expansion of Opportunity Scholarships passed in last year’s budget eliminated both income requirements as well as the requirement that students needed to have previously attended a public school. This means this February was the first time that all students in private schools in 2023-24 — regardless of household income — could apply for a voucher.

Data on Opportunity Scholarships does not have to be reported by NCSEAA to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) until Oct. 15 (search the budget bill for “Opportunity Scholarship Financial Impact Report/Reinvestment in Public Schools” to see the provision). Only DPI will be able to determine how many of the students who applied and receive the voucher were in public schools in 2023-24.

Public school districts will have to put together their master schedule and local budget requests in April and May for the 2024-25 school year without data on the impact of school choice expansion. Because parents often don’t withdraw their students from the school they are attending, districts won’t know until school starts in August how many students they are losing. For districts, that matters because public school funding is based on average daily membership (ADM).

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.