North Carolina offers three programs to provide funding for K-12 students who opt for a non-public education. In North Carolina, “non-public education” includes private schools and home schools, including home-school cooperatives. Each state funding program has different application processes and eligibility criteria.
Two programs are specifically for students with a significant disability, as determined by eligibility for special education in the public school, as well as other criteria. These two programs, the scholarship/grant program and the education savings accounts (ESA), require paperwork related to special education: either proof of exceptional child status from the DEC 10, or a valid IEP.
Information about all of these programs can be found at the NC State Education Assistance Authority website. Eligibility criteria for each program and how funds may be used for private schools vs. home schools can be complicated, so only very general information on the programs is shared in this overview.
- Students with Disabilities Scholarship Program/Disabilities Grants: This program, which is sometimes referred to as the “Disabilities Grant,” is a scholarship fund that allows children with a disability to receive up to $4,000 per K-12 semester for tuition and/or disability-related expenses such as therapies, assistive technology, etc. to support their education. Children must be IEP-eligible and meet other criteria. Unused funds available to an individual for a specific semester cannot be carried forward for future use. Families may apply for the disabilities grant program each year starting May 1.
- Education Savings Accounts (for Students with Disabilities): This program is new this year, and the disbursement of funds will not begin until the start of the 2018-19 school year. Its eligibility criteria are similar to the scholarship program’s: students must have a significant disability as evidenced by a DEC10 and/or an IEP and meet other eligibility criteria. They are eligible for $9,000 per school year, available quarterly in a debit account for use for tuition or education-related expenses. Unused funds are carried forward for use later. Students with a disability who are in a public school for half of the day and a private school for the other half may be eligible for the ESA. Applications for the ESA began February 1.
- Opportunity Scholarships: These funds provide up to $4,200 to students in low-income households to attend non-public schools and may be used by students with disabilities who also come from low-income households. Applications for the Opportunity Scholarship began February 1.
These funding sources can be “stacked.” Individuals can be eligible for, and receive funds from, more than one program. For the scholarships, funds cannot exceed the cost of tuition and education-related expenses. For the ESA, funds may be rolled over to another year. For all programs, participants must meet all of the program rules for reporting their expenses to continue to receive funds.
Students in non-public schools do not have education rights under federal IDEA laws, nor under state special-education laws. This means that children who leave the public school system may or may not find education supports, such as education accommodation, special therapies, disability transport, or other special-education services. Private schools might develop a personalized plan for a student’s education, but this sort of plan does not have any *legal* status like an IEP or 504 plan. Information about student rights is shared with parents who apply for scholarships for non-public education. See the NC Education Authority webpages on each of the above programs for more information.
ASNC Support for These Programs
ASNC has consistently supported options for students with autism to be educated in ways and in settings that address their unique needs, whether that is in public on non-public schools. This has led us to push for teacher training programs and increased special-education funding for public schools (including the elimination of the cap on special-education funding). We have also advocated for programs, like the two mentioned above for students with disabilities, that support parents and students who opt for non-public education.
ASNC has not endorsed and does not work on public policy related to the more general education scholarships such as the “Opportunity Scholarship” program. We inform people about all options available to students on the autism spectrum.
Background: In 2010, ASNC began supporting passage of the students with disabilities tax credit legislation, which passed in 2011. It offered a tax credit to families who moved students with disabilities to non-public schools. Tax credits are problematic ways to offer education assistance because there is a ceiling on a tax credit benefit, and some families with lower incomes would not benefit from the program at all. When the tax credit was due to sunset in 2013, ASNC worked with the NC General Assembly to move the tax credit to the current students with disabilities scholarship program. ASNC is supporting the ESA for students with disabilities because it increases the amount of funds available to students and families, allows for unused funds to roll over, and offers options for students not eligible for the scholarship or grant program.
If you are considering non-public schools as an option, more info can be found at the NC Division of Non-Public Education.
Please contact ASNC Director of Public Policy Jennifer Mahan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-865-5068 for more information regarding this or other public policy issues. To learn more about ASNC’s public policy priorities and targets, see our website.
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