School Choice on Its Way to North Carolina

Rachel Sheffield /

Add North Carolina to the list of states making monumental moves forward on school choice.

In the last two weeks, legislators in the Tarheel State have advanced two policies to expand educational options for the state’s students. The first lifts the state’s cap on charter schools, currently limited to100. The second puts into place a tax credit scholarship program to give special-needs students the opportunity to attend a private school of their choice. While the first bill has made it past the governor’s desk, the second awaits final approval.

Support for lifting the charter caps is “a significant victory,” asserts state Senator Richard Stevens (R), considering that “a year ago, charter advocates could not get a law adding six new schools.” The new law will broaden educational options for students, a much-needed reform, as “the state’s best charters have waiting lists” and “charter supporters…[report that] parents unhappy with traditional public schools are clamoring for more choices.”

Perhaps even more notable is the new special-needs scholarship tax credit, which would be the state’s first private school choice program. If enacted, parents of students with special needs could receive a non-refundable tax credit of up to $3,000 per semester ($6,000 per year) “for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.” Between 120,000 and 140,000 students are estimated to be eligible for the program. The state estimates that the program will result in a savings of more than $8,000 per pupil, resulting in millions in lower costs for taxpayers.

North Carolina’s tax credit program would be the 14th private school choice program and is similar to tax credit programs for special-needs students now operating in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah.

One Utah mother of a special-needs student said of the tax credit program in her state:

The Carson Smith Scholarship [for students with disabilities] enables my son to attend school where he can reach his full potential. I don’t feel I exaggerate when I say that Carson Smith gave him back his life.

More and more legislators are coming to understand the importance of educational options and taking steps to advance private school choice, charter schools, virtual education, and education savings accounts. Now, North Carolina will be able to count itself as one of the reform-minded jurisdictions that are putting parents and students first.