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An Opportunity for Opportunity Scholarships

Children at school sitting around two laptops celebrating an opportunity

The Opportunity Scholarship Program in North Carolina, aimed at broadening educational choices for families, garnered nearly 72,000 new applications this year. The overwhelming demand resulted in a temporary crash of the application website on the first night and has created a significant funding shortfall for this program for the upcoming school year. The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) informed families late last week of the current insufficiency of funds to offer scholarships to higher income “Tier 3” and “Tier 4” families for the 2024-2025 school year. Fortunately, state lawmakers are already discussing the possibility of increasing funding for the program during this year’s short session, a move strongly supported by NC Family, as it underscores a commitment to expanding educational freedom for more families across the state.

Overwhelming Interest

In a landmark year for educational choice in North Carolina, the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) has witnessed unprecedented interest. In the fall, we reported that the General Assembly had expanded eligibility for the program and had provided increased funding for scholarships in future years. In February, we reminded our readers that the application period was open from February 1 to March 1, and we encouraged eligible families to apply. If you were one of the families that did apply—or if you encouraged your friends to do so—we commend you for that. You were not alone.

Applications were so popular that the application website crashed the first night the applications were open from the sheer volume of traffic. In all, there were nearly 72,000 new applications for the upcoming school year, around a sixfold increase over the 11,617 new applications received during the same period last year. Families demonstrated an overwhelming demand for the program, and this surge in applications is a clear indication of the value North Carolina families place on educational freedom. It also meant that it was clear that there would be a significant funding shortage. considering the number of families that applied. The NCSEAA has now affirmed just that.

Yes, No, Maybe

On Friday, March 29, NCSEAA sent email notifications to Tier 3 and Tier 4 families who applied for the program, informing them of the shortage of funds. “There are not sufficient funds available to offer students in Award Tiers 3 or 4 an award for the 2024-2025 school year,” the notice says. All new Tier 1 applicants are being awarded scholarships along with the renewal families. Tier 2 families will be selected by lottery for scholarships beginning in May. So, for now, Tier 1 families and renewals are all approved, all Tier 3 and 4 families are denied, and Tier 2 families will have to wait until May to find out if they will receive the scholarship.

Available Funds

The number of applicants across the newly implemented income tier system further illustrates the widespread appeal of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. It also highlights a significant challenge: the current budget for the program is insufficient to meet the demand. NCSEAA reported that 19% of the new applications were Tier 1 students, 26% Tier 2, 37% Tier 3, and 18% Tier 4. The maximum scholarship available to applicants ranges from $7,498 for Tier 1 families to $3,360 for Tier 4 families this coming year. Based on these numbers, advocates estimate that an additional $230 million or more would be required to fully meet the demand for the 2024-25 school year.

An Opportunity for Expansion

This situation comes with a silver lining: lawmakers in the General Assembly are aware of the issue and are actively discussing options to increase funding for the Opportunity Scholarship Program during this year’s short session, which begins at the end of this month. The high number of applications underscores the program’s popularity and demonstrates a broad-based support for school choice among North Carolina families. NC Family urges the General Assembly to increase funding for Opportunity Scholarships in order to provide a more flexible and personalized approach to education enabling more families to choose the best educational paths for their children.


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