This session, the General Assembly passed and the governor signed H269: Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grants. This bill replaces the existing tax credit starting in the spring of 2014. The legislature also created an “opportunity scholarship," which is described here. Please be sure to look at both information pages, because you might qualify for one or the other.
This FAQ is aimed at answering some of the questions regarding the scholarship program for children with disabilities.
Q. What happened to the tax credit?
A. The Tax Credit for Children with Disabilities changed to a scholarship program in spring 2014.
Q. Why did the tax credit change to a scholarship program and what is the difference?
A. During the 2013 session, the legislature repealed the credit as part of tax changes. The primary difference is the tax credit limited who was eligible based on income and tax liability. The scholarship does not have any family income limits.
- The law created an individual, nonrefundable income tax credit for part of the expense of each eligible child who is educated in a homeschool or private school.
- The credit was equal to the amount paid for tuition and other educational and therapeutic expenses.
- The credit could not exceed $3,000 per semester. As a nonrefundable tax credit, it was also limited by a family’s state tax liability, and people who paid little to no income taxes did not benefit from the credit.
- The new scholarship grants replace the tax credit and will be awarded to reimburse tuition and special education and related services for each eligible child who is educated in a homeschool or nonpublic school.
- The grant cannot exceed $3,000 per semester. The amount is determined by a family’s expenses and is not limited by tax liability or income.
Q. If I have been claiming the tax credit, will I be able to get a scholarship?
A. Likely yes. First priority for the scholarships will be given to families already receiving the tax credit and those who plan to use it on their 2013 tax return.
Q. How will the rest of the scholarship slots be allotted?
A. Scholarships will then be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Q. If I have been claiming the tax credit, will I still need to fill out a scholarship application?
Q. How do I apply for a scholarship?
A. Scholarship applications are available from the NC State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) at www.ncseaa.edu.
Q. Who can apply for the new scholarships?
A. Requirements for the new scholarships are similar to those for the old tax credit. The differences are highlighted below.
A child must meet at least one of these requirements (plus the criteria below):
- Was enrolled in an NC public school during the previous semester (one semester instead of two)
- Received special education or related services through an NC public school as a preschooler with a disability during the previous semester
- Received a scholarship grant (or tax credit) for the previous semester
- Is eligible for enrollment in kindergarten or first grade in an NC public school
In addition, children must meet all the following criteria:
- Must require an IEP and be receiving special education or related services on a daily basis
- Must be under the age of 22 and must not have received a high school diploma
- Cannot have been placed in a nonpublic school or facility by a public agency at public expense
- Must not have spent any time enrolled in a postsecondary institution as a full-time student taking at least 12 hours of academic credit.
- After initial receipt of a scholarship grant, a child will be re-evaluated every three years by the public school system
Q. Is the scholarship for any services for my child with a disability?
A. No, the scholarship is for education purposes: private school tuition, homeschool special education costs, and related education services costs. “Special education” is defined in state law and “related services” is defined in federal law.
Q. Are private schools required to offer the same services and special education that my child now gets in the public school?
A. Not necessarily. Private schools are not required to provide a “free and appropriate education” for children with disabilities the way that public schools are required to do. Your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), covering special education and related services needs, is a legal document in the public school, and the school is required to follow it. If your child is in a private school, your child may have a personalized education plan or a similar document outlining their needs, but it is a guideline for the school. Private schools are not required to provide the same things as the public schools do; in some cases they may not be able to do so without additional tuition fees.
For this reason, the Autism Society of North Carolina urges parents to carefully select the private school. Be sure to explain all your child’s needs and behaviors to make sure the school is ready to provide them with the supports to be successful. Ask that the school use the child’s IEP as a guide, and add any additional supports that you think will be needed. Ask that a personalized education plan be used to document strengths and needs similar to the IEP. The NC Division of Non-Public Instruction has information on private schools, including frequently asked questions and a guide to selecting a nonpublic school.
Q. Can I get this scholarship if my child is already in a private school or being homeschooled?
A. You can qualify for the new scholarship program if you either 1) meet current scholarship eligibility requirements including having had the child in public school for one previous semester (see section on qualifications) OR 2) if you are claiming the tax credit in 2013 and qualify for the tax credit based on that law. The tax credit has specific requirements for qualifying based on when your child left the public school system. If your child left the public school system in 2010 or prior to 2010, or attended fewer than 70 school days in the spring of 2011, you would not qualify for the tax credit and therefore would not qualify to be given priority in receiving the children with disabilities scholarship. Currently, to qualify for the tax credit, the child must have been in a public school for the previous two semesters.
Q. Can I claim this scholarship if my child is still enrolled in public school, but I am sending them to get additional help at a private school on a part-time basis or after school?
A. The child must be enrolled in a nonpublic school (private school or homeschool) to claim the scholarship. Those still enrolled in public schools, whether full- or part-time, do not qualify.
Q. Is there a list of schools where the tuition is close to the $6,000 credit?
A: Because the law just passed, we have not yet seen a list of schools where tuition is near $6,000. The NC Division of Non-Public Education publishes a list of private schools in North Carolina. Parents can use this as a starting point for their school research. The list can be found here. As we get more information on schools, the Autism Society of North Carolina will do our best to share it with families.
Q. If another person, such as a grandparent, is paying for my child’s tuition, can they apply for and claim the scholarship?
A. At this time, it’s not clear who can apply for the scholarship and be reimbursed for expenses. Under the tax credit, only the person who claimed the child as a dependent on their taxes could be the one to claim the benefit.
Q. We are a military family stationed at a base in NC. Can we claim this scholarship if my child is attending school in NC, but we are legal residents of another state?
A. No, the child must be a resident of North Carolina to claim the scholarship.
Q. My child gets services through the LME MCO (local management entity managed care organization for developmental disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse services). They require me to submit my child’s IEP to qualify for services. Because the private school is not required to have an IEP, how will I get one for my child so I can make sure we continue to get services?
A. Every LME MCO operates a little differently. Because this issue is not covered in the new law, the Autism Society of North recommends that you retain the old IEP and ask that the LME MCO use that one. Ask the private school to use a similar form to document your child’s personalized education plan so that you have those records going forward. Be sure to contact your LME MCO and/or your child’s care coordinator to discuss the documents they might need to continue services prior to moving your child to private or homeschool. You may want to consider renewing your IEP for this or other reasons, even if it is not being used in the nonpublic school for the reasons shared in the next question below.
Q. It says that to continue to qualify for the scholarship, my child needs to be re-evaluated and have a revised IEP done. How does that work?
A. To continue to qualify for the tax credit, children must be re-evaluated every three years to determine whether they still meet the definition of a child with disability as defined in General Statute 115C-106.3(1). Contact your local school, education authority or local exceptional children’s director to start the process of re-evaluation.
ASNC recommends that even though the IEP is no longer a legally enforceable document once the child leaves the public school system, parents should renew the IEP when it comes due and have the child re-evaluated (when needed). In some cases, a re-evaluation may not be warranted because of the nature of the disability or the age of the child. However, an IEP can still be renewed without the full re-evaluation. There are many reasons to renew the IEP even if it is not an enforceable document in private or home schools: IEPs may help the child qualify for services, will be needed in older children transitioning out of school and into adult services, can provide a framework for what the private school or homeschool can focus on, provides feedback on the child’s development, and, of course, continued qualification for the education scholarship.
For more information about the two scholarship programs, please read this presentation provided by NC Rep. Paul Stam. Further breakdowns of the opportunity scholarships and scholarships for students with disabilities are also available.