Applications pour in for private school vouchers
Posted February 4
Raleigh, N.C. — Three days after North Carolina began taking applications for the state's new school voucher program, hundreds of families have entered the lottery, hoping to get the state to pick up part of the cost of private school tuition.
As of noon Tuesday, 1,400 families had applied online, meaning 2,100 children were already vying for the 2,400 or so vouchers that will be issued for the 2014-15 school year. Applications will be accepted until midnight Feb. 25.
Lawmakers voted last year to set aside $10 million to help pay for students to go to private or religious schools. The so-called Opportunity Scholarships will provide up to $4,200 a year per student for tuition and fees, and families would be responsible for any charges over that.
"It doesn’t necessarily cover the full cost, and it doesn’t mean the school can’t charge the rest of the cost,” said Elizabeth McDuffie, director for grants, training and outreach for the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.
Only students who are currently in public school and who are in low-income families are eligible for the vouchers. For a family of three, the maximum annual income is $36,612, while a family of four can't make more than $44,568 a year.
McDuffie said applications that don't meet the income guidelines will be tossed out before the state holds a lottery to select the families who will receive vouchers. Students who win a voucher this year will get first priority to have it renewed in 2015-16, as long as the family continues to meet income guidelines, she said.
To obtain the money that the vouchers carry, schools must be registered with the state’s Division of Non-Public Education – home schools don’t qualify. The law imposes few other restrictions on which schools families can pick. There are no minimum standards for national test scores, GPAs or graduation rates, and even though students must qualify for free or reduced-price lunch to be eligible for the vouchers, schools accepting vouchers aren't required to provide lunch.
“There are a few schools who are deciding not to participate," McDuffie said. "They may make another decision next year, but they’re not getting into it initially.”
Applications are online only, and parents must have an email – McDuffie said the program will communicate with families only through email. If a family's application is selected in the lottery, each child listed on it will obtain a voucher.
The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association have filed suit to block the voucher program, saying shifting state money from public schools to private schools is unconstitutional. A hearing is set for Feb. 17 to determine whether the voucher selection process should be delayed until the lawsuit is resolved.
If a judge permits the lottery to proceed, winners will be notified starting March 3.