North Carolina's school choice programs saved taxpayers at least $74 million in fiscal year 2018, an updated analysis by EdChoice found.
EdChoice examined the fiscal effects of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The nonprofit found that North Carolina Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities and North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program saved taxpayers between $74.1 million and $154.3 million in fiscal 2018.
Each taxpayer saved money on the sum they would have paid in taxes for each of the students enrolled in the program to attend public schools. The programs saved each taxpayer between $3,373 to $7,022 per student, according to the report.
Current estimates could reveal more savings for taxpayers as lawmakers have expanded the programs to include more students.
“I suspect that subsequent EdChoice analyses will show that recently approved modifications to the state's private school choice programs accelerated savings for North Carolina taxpayers,” said Terry Stoops, director of the John Locke Foundation's Center for Effective Education.
North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program provides state-funded tuition assistance for low-income students.
In fiscal year 2018, the total cost of public schools per pupil for students with special needs in North Carolina was $17,997. The average Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children voucher was $6,765. The average Opportunity Scholarship voucher was $3,807, while the per-pupil cost in fiscal year 2018 was roughly $10,889.
The General Assembly raised the income threshold for the Opportunity Scholarships program in November, allowing more children to apply. It also increased the scholarship awards and created an easier application process for the program for children with disabilities.
The Legislature increased the eligibility income threshold for the program from 150% of the federal reduced-price lunch level to 175%. Under the new law, a family of four with an annual income of $85,794 qualifies for the program. The new law also eliminated the $4,200 opportunity scholarship award limit and replaced it with up to 90% of what the state spends per pupil at traditional public schools, or $5,850.
A recent survey from National School Choice Week found more than half (52%) of parents surveyed said they have considered choosing a new or different school for their children in the past year.
“While North Carolina taxpayers should welcome the news of substantial cost savings from its popular private school choice programs, the primary goal of each program is to improve educational quality for our most vulnerable children,” Stoops said. “In this way, North Carolina's private school choice programs are a win-win. Not only do these programs offer resources for families to access superior learning options for their children, but they require substantially fewer taxpayer dollars to do so.”
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