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NC Senate eases caps on income, grants for K-12 scholarships

RALEIGH (AP) — Qualifying income levels and maximum grants would rise for North Carolina’s publicly funded scholarship program for K-12 students to attend private schools in a measure approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The legislation was approved on a nearly party-line vote favoring Republicans, who have championed the Opportunity Scholarship Program since it began distributing funds in 2014.

Roughly 16,000 students received $61.2 million in grants during this school year, according to the program’s operators.

The legislation says that for the fall of 2022, the income threshold for a family to qualify for a scholarship would increase from an amount equal to 150% of the federal lunch program limits to 175%. Other qualification requirements also would be adjusted.

And the annual scholarship cap would grow from a flat $4,200 to a total equal to a percentage of the average state per-pupil allocation to public schools. That would be about $5,900, according to a news release from Senate Republicans.

The measure also would combine the state’s two scholarship programs for children with disabilities to form new “Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities.” Students with certain disabilities could receive as much as $17,000 annually.

Republicans contend expanding the program would give families more education options for their children — allowing them to break away from consistently low-performing traditional K-12 schools.

The bill now goes to the House, which passed a somewhat similar measure last month that also linked Opportunity Scholarship totals to state per-pupil funding.

Any measure approved by the legislature would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a longtime opponent of education vouchers. He has tried repeatedly in his state budget proposals to phase out the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Cooper and other Democrats say the program siphons money away from public schools.

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