‘Opportunity’ awaits

Published 11:41 am Monday, January 16, 2017

AHOSKIE – Funds allocated last year by the North Carolina General Assembly are available for parents/guardians who are searching for alternative education avenues for their children now enrolled in public school.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers up to $4,200 per child in tuition assistance for eligible families, is administered through the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA).

Ridgecroft School hosted an information session on Thursday evening concerning the scholarship program. Officials with Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a partner of the NCSEAA, were on hand to provide local families with information about their options.

“We believe that greater educational opportunities for families is what is right,” said Allison Guenther, Outreach Director for Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, an organization based in Raleigh. “Families should have the right to choose, not someone else, what education their child receives, whether it’s the traditional public school, a public charter school, private school or home school.”

Guenther’s colleague, Kwan Graham, who serves as Parent Advocacy Director, laid out the scholarship options and the financial aid package.

Graham said that while the program basically offers the tuition/fees scholarship for students that are transferring to private educational facilities from public schools, there are exceptions for first-time students in kindergarten and first grade.

“There are eligibility requirements to apply for the $4,200 Opportunity Scholarship,” Graham noted, saying that the child for which the application is being made must be at least 5-years-old, live in an eligible North Carolina household, and has yet to graduate from high school.

She added that if parents with more than one school-age child makes an application, if that paperwork is approved it applies $4,200 per child listed on the application.

There are household income requirements to meet to be eligible to receive a scholarship. Graham said a typical family of four can have a maximum gross household income of $44,955 annually and gain full tuition costs. To receive 90 percent of the Opportunity Scholarship, a family of four cannot exceed a gross household income of $59,790 annually. Both those figures increase or decrease based on the number of individuals living in the household.

The application period is closed for the current school year (2016-17). Graham said applications for the scholarship to cover 2017-18 will begin to be accepted on Feb. 1 of this year. That application period ends March 1.

“Those chosen are by a lottery,” she explained. “If your application is pulled during the lottery, you will be notified that your child has been awarded a seat. If your application is not pulled, it goes on a waiting list.”

Once an Opportunity Scholarship is awarded, it remains with that child through high school graduation, contingent upon eligibility requirements being maintained (the parent/guardian must update their applications annually). The scholarship is also transferrable in the event a family relocates or chooses another qualified private school.

She also covered a separate piece of the scholarship program – the Children with Disabilities Grant, one that pays up to $8,000 annually to cover tuition costs as well as fees associated with special education needs and speech/physical therapy.

“The Disabilities Grant is not income based,” Graham said. “You (parents) can apply, and if successful in the lottery, be awarded both the Disabilities Grant and the Opportunity Scholarship.”

The application period for the Disabilities Grant begins May 1.

“There is not a lottery with the Disabilities Grant; it’s on a first-come, first-served basis until those funds are exhausted,” Graham stressed.

Graham said the NCSEAA handles the schools registered to accept students that receive the scholarships as well as the application process, to include verification of meeting the eligibility requirements.

NCSEAA oversees the $145 million set aside by the NC General Assembly, locked in for the next 10 years. That is enough to assist 36,000 children during that time frame. That money did not come from the state’s coffers that fund public schools.

Guenther said a new website (NCSchoolsAroundMe.com) allows families to search for schools in their area, to include traditional public schools, charter schools, and the private schools that participate in the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“Parents can use that to see what schools are there to fit the educational needs of their child,” Guenther said. “The website also includes how your local public schools stack up as far as the state assigning them a letter grade (based on test scores). It also includes the annual tuition costs of private schools. I know that cost sometimes scares families into thinking they cannot afford private school, but when they see that number and think about offsetting that cost through receiving an Opportunity Scholarship, it makes that option more affordable for them.”

In the gym lobby, Ridgecroft, Bethel Assembly Christian Academy, Hobgood Academy and Roanoke-Chowan Community College had tables set up where interested parents could find out more about those schools and their educational offerings. RCCC was invited due to the fact that students enrolled at private schools have the chance to take dual enrollment courses at community colleges across the state.

Tours were given of the classrooms at Ridgecroft.

“We here at Ridgecroft are pleased to have you here tonight and give you a chance to learn more about this exciting scholarship program,” said Elton Winslow, Headmaster at Ridgecroft.

“Not every child is comfortable in a large school,” Winslow continued. “Some kids do better in a small school. We know that we here in our part of the state do not have the schools of choice as found in our larger cities. Our options are limited here. So, in order for you to have a choice, these Opportunity Scholarships are very important.”

For more information, visit http://www.ncseaa.edu.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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