Report: How NC Tax Dollars Are Used to Discriminate Against Students and Families, July 2023
Call to Action to Stop School Voucher Expansion – Download Our Info Brief
Read this 2020 fact sheet, Research Shows Private School Vouchers Don’t Work for Students and Harm Public Schools from Public Funds, Public Schools
Voucher Expansion Bills HB 823 / SB 406
- Office of State Budget and Management Impact Analysis May 2023
- Growth in Opportunity Scholarship Voucher Funding – with HB 823 /SB406
View Voucher Data Charts:
- Comparing Requirements for Public vs Private Schools in NC
- Number of Opportunity Scholarship Recipients and Dollars Spent by Year 2014-15 through 2021-22
- Cumulative Opportunity Scholarship Voucher Dollars Spent Through 2021-22
- Opportunity Scholarship Voucher Allocations by Year and Budget
- Cumulative Dollars Allocated for Opportunity Scholarship Vouchers 2017-18 through 2036-37
- Cumulative Voucher Costs NC 2014-2015 to 2027-2028
- NC School Vouchers by County, 2014-15 to 2022-23
- Type of School Participating in the NC Voucher Program
- Requirements for Schools Participating in Voucher Programs
- Number of Vouchers in NC Schools by Curriculum
- NC Voucher Recipients by Race or Ethnicity 2014-2015 to 2018-2019
- Voucher Recipients Demographics 2019
- North Carolina School Vouchers by County, 2014-15 to 2019-20
Read Characteristics of North Carolina Private Schools, a report issued by the Children’s Law Clinic, Duke University School of Law.
View information about North Carolina’s voucher program (i.e. Opportunity Scholarships and ESA+) from the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.
Read our fact sheet on Public vs. Private Schools for a side-by-side comparison of public schools and private schools.
Private school vouchers are a way for the government to pay a student’s tuition at a private school. Instead of the tax-payer funds going to a public school that the student would be able to attend free, the funds are used to pay for the student to attend a private school. In other words, school vouchers are tax dollars paid directly to private schools as tuition for students who opt out of public schools. School voucher programs exist in a number of states and each has specific requirements and restrictions.
Vouchers were originally created in response to desegregation efforts prior to and following Brown v. Board of Education. White families who wanted to keep their children in segregated schools were granted vouchers to attend private schools. Today, vouchers are often sold as means for minority and low-income children to opt out of their local, high-poverty, under-resourced schools. Voucher programs siphon money from local public schools and exacerbate existing problems with school performance and funding. In many areas of the country, this has resulted in school closures.
Kappan magazine’s 2017 annual polling on educational topics focused on public attitudes toward vouchers. They found that substantially more Americans oppose rather than support school vouchers, but the size of the gap depends on how the question is asked. When respondents received more information about the effects of vouchers and were told that a voucher system either could help public schools by making them compete or hurt them by reducing their funding, preference for only funding public schools was 67%, compared to voucher support at 26%.
Even so, in a number of states, state legislatures have expanded voucher programs in direct opposition to what the public wants. In AZ, voters rejected voucher expansion with 64% of voters opposing expansion in 2018, but still saw their legislature pass a massive expansion in 2021. In West Virginia, parents have filed a lawsuit to block voucher expansion. And numerous research studies have shown that voucher programs do not improve student academic achievement, calling into question the stated purpose of many programs.
Vouchers in North Carolina
In North Carolina, the largest voucher program, which started in 2013 is titled the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program. This program was initially designed for low-income families to opt out of their local public schools. To qualify for a voucher, a student had to first attend a public school for at least one year. Since the program started, funding for it has steadily increased even though each year there is less demand for vouchers than funding allocated for the program.
Until the November 2021 budget combined them, there were two other voucher programs that diverted public funds from public education.
- Special Education Scholarship for Students with Disabilities was a traditional voucher program covering up to $8,000 per year for students with disabilities.
- Personal Education Savings Accounts gave parents of qualifying children a debit card with $9,000 to spend on education-related expenses.
The November 2021 budget combined these two programs into the Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities (PESA, also referred to as ESA+) Program and increased their total allocation to $31.6 million in FY 2022-23.
Research on North Carolina’s voucher programs reported in School Vouchers in North Carolina 2014-2020 by Dr. Jane Wettach of the Children’s Law Clinic, Duke Law School found that “The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so over time.” Furthermore, “The public has no information on whether the students with vouchers have made academic progress or have fallen behind. No data about the academic achievement of voucher students are available to the public, not even the data that are identified as a public record in the law.”
The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship program initially awarded up to $4,200 per year for qualifying students to attend participating nonpublic schools. The state issued tax money to private schools for the first time in the 2014-2015 school year. After a lawsuit, the NC Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the program in July 2015. In 2016, the NCGA greatly expanded the program as part of the budget passed in the short session. The budget raised the percentage of funding available to K-1st grade students and it established an Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve to be augmented by $10 million every year until 2027-28 when it was set to plateau at $144.8 million in annual funding.
The 2021-23 budget passed by the General Assembly in November 2021 and the budget update passed in the summer of 2022 House Bill 103, Current Operations Appropriations Act of 2022 both substantially increased funding for the Opportunity Scholarships despite the fact that in previous years, there were unspent funds due to lack of interest. For example, the allocation for SY 2023-24 increased from $104 million to $120 million with the 2021-23 budget and then to $176 million with the 2022 Appropriations Act. The new plateau for funding increased from $114.8 million annually to $311.5 annually.
To help drum up interest, the 2021-23 budget specified that up to $500,000 per year in unspent voucher funds could be spent on marketing the program. In addition, in the 2021-23 budget voucher eligibility was expanded to 175% of the federal free lunch cutoff (about $85,000 for a family of 4) and then up to 200% (about $103,000 per year) in the Appropriations Act of 2022. In addition, the funding cap was increased to $90% of what the state spends per pupil at traditional public schools across the state.
Charts Showing Current Voucher Data
Why are Vouchers for Private Education a Problem?
- Loss of Funds for Public Schools. The loss of tax dollars may reduce academic programs and teaching staff at traditional public schools.
- Student Success. There is no evidence that private or religious schools offer a higher quality education for students than public schools. There are no metrics in place to ensure that students are receiving a sound, basic education in private schools.
- Teacher Quality. Private school teachers do not have to be licensed. Research shows that a high-quality educator is one of the most important predictors of student success.
- Student Safety. Private schools do not have to conduct background checks on employees and volunteers the way public schools do.
- Financial Accountability. Voucher programs divert tax dollars to largely unregulated private entities that run private schools. Taxpayers do not see how students are performing or how the money is spent.
- Academic Accountability. Private schools do not have to hire licensed teachers and are not subject to the academic standards imposed on public schools.
- Admissions. Private schools are not required to serve free/reduced lunch, offer transportation, or provide special education services—and they can select the students they admit. There are many reports of private schools denying admittance to students on the basis of sexual or gender identity.
- Tuition Gap. Even with a taxpayer-funded subsidy, most middle-class families cannot afford to pay the difference between the subsidy and the high cost of a private school education.
- Enrollment. The vast majority of our students (about 1.43 million) are educated in our public schools. Private school enrollment for the 2021-2022 school term was 115,311 students.
- Oversight. The use of public tax dollars to fund private school education demands careful monitoring to ensure standards for schools accepting voucher funds are met. The price to develop and administer such standards is significant and is an additional cost to taxpayers.
Read more about the damage to traditional public schools from vouchers here.
What other states have a voucher program?
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia provide state-funded school vouchers to qualifying students. You can read more about the specific programs by state here.
- Click here to read one perspective on the three earliest voucher programs: Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida.
Public Schools First NC, 2017 School Vouchers, http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf
NC Policy Watch, 2013, School Vouchers Come to North Carolina, http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2013/09/04/school-vouchers-come-to-north-carolina/
PDK Poll, 2018, How would you grade the public schools? https://pdkpoll.org/results/how-would-you-grade-the-schools
NC Churches, 2015, Private School Vouchers, Lax Standards, https://www.ncchurches.org/2015/08/private-school-vouchers-lax-standards/
NCSEAA, Opportunity Scholarship Program,2013- 2019 http://www.ncseaa.edu/documents/OPS_Summary_Data.pdf
Citylab, 2017, Mapping White Flight Into Charter Schools https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/01/what-betsy-devos-didnt-say-about-school-choice/513269/
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 2011, Back to Basics: Why School Vouchers Violate Religious Liberty Rights https://www.au.org/church-state/february-2011-church-state/editorial/back-to-basics-why-school-vouchers-violate
NCAE, 2013, North Carolinians Challenge Unconstitutional Voucher Legislation https://www.ncae.org/litigation-news/north-carolinians-challenge-unconstitutional-voucher-legislation/
Trinity Community Services, K-12 School of Academics http://www.trinitycommunityservices.org/k-12-academics/
National Conference of State Legislators, 2014, School Voucher Laws: State-by-State Comparison http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/voucher-law-comparison.aspx
NEA, 2002, School Vouchers: The Emerging Track Record: http://www.nea.org/home/16970.htm
NCSEAA, Opportunity Scholarship Program, Voucher Recipients by Ethnicity and Race ,http://www.ncseaa.edu/documents/2019-20OPSRecipientsbyEthnicity.pdf
NCSEAA, Opportunity Scholarship Program, 2019-2020 Recipients http://www.ncseaa.edu/documents/2019-20OPSDisbbyNPS.pdf
NCSEAA, Opportunity Scholarship Program, 2019-2020 Recipients by County http://www.ncseaa.edu/documents/2019-20OPSRecipientsbyNPS.pdf
WRAL, April, 2019, Editorial: Taxpayer-funded vouchers shouldn’t go to schools that discriminate https://www.wral.com/editorial-taxpayer-funded-vouchers-shouldn-t-go-to-schools-that-discriminate/18301351/
NC Policy Watch, April 2019, “Must read” editorial blasts NC’s discriminatory school voucher program http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2019/04/04/must-read-editorial-blasts-ncs-discriminatory-school-voucher-program/
PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills, January 2018, The Pearsall Plan Revisited, https://www.politicsnc.com/the-pearsall-plan-revisited/
Updated November, 2021