The Opportunity Scholarship Program
Private school funding options for low-income students in NC
An Opportunity Scholarship student browses the library.
Photo courtesy of Stephen J Coppedge
Parents should know about a state-funded scholarship that can help low-income families afford tuition and fees at private schools. The Opportunity Scholarship, implemented in 2014 and administered by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, offers money that low-income families who are dissatisfied with their current educational situations may use to attend participating private schools.
For families who receive the award, the state pays up to $2,100 per student, per semester ($4,200 per year), directly to participating schools on behalf of the students. The money is designated specifically for tuition and fees at private schools but does not cover books, uniforms or other expenses.
Who is Eligible?
Students applying to receive an Opportunity Scholarship must meet the following criteria:
* They must be North Carolina residents between the ages of 5-22 at the beginning of their scholarship year.
* They must not have graduated high school.
* Students new to the program must either be entering kindergarten or first grade, or have attended a North Carolina public school during the preceding school year. (Exceptions to this rule exist; read the program overview at ncseaa.edu/pdf/ops_overview.pdf for details.)
* Their families must be financially eligible. The chart below, produced by NCSEAA, can help you determine whether your family is financially eligible for the scholarship.
* The Opportunity Scholarship covers 90 percent of the required tuition and fees or $4,200, whichever is less.
Within the pool of eligible families, students who are already receiving an Opportunity Scholarship receive first priority. The next priority goes to first-time applicants who submit their applications by the March 1 deadline. Those students are put into a lottery. Any money that remains, once all the priority applicants have received their, goes to eligible students who apply after March 1.
How to Apply
The Opportunity Scholarship application is available on the scholarship’s website: ncseaa.edu/osg.htm. The 2019-20 school year application comes out on Feb. 1, 2019. The application is online only, and families should fill it out on a computer. Applying families need to have an email address and be prepared to check it regularly. The document asks families to report their household income based on their most recent income tax returns, so families should have those documents available when filling out the application.
Kathryn Marker, director of grants, training and outreach for NCSEAA, emphasizes that applying for enrollment for the Opportunity Scholarship is a separate process from applying to attend the private school itself.
“Many of the families going for the first time don’t realize what a [private school] enrollment process might entail,” she says. “They might wait to apply to the school, and then the school doesn’t have room.” She cautions families to stay on top of the private school’s application timeline, as well as that of the Opportunity Scholarship application.
What Schools Can Students Attend?
Students can use the Opportunity Scholarship at any school registered with the North Carolina Division of Nonpublic Education, as long as that school has agreed to participate in the program. A list of participating schools can be found at www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/schoolroster/nps500.pgm or on the Opportunity Scholarship website. If a student wishes to attend a school that is not on the list to receive Opportunity Scholarships, families should talk to the school about contacting NCSEAA and being added to the list.
Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a private advocacy group, helps families navigate the process of applying for the Opportunity Scholarship. You can get in touch with PEFNC at pefnc.org, by emailing the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-871-1084.
PEFNC also offers ncschoolsaroundme.com, which helps parents find and evaluate schools in their neighborhoods.
Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two adventurous boys. She lives in Cary.