by Clellie Allen
RALEIGH — The Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) was created last year by the North Carolina General Assembly for certain students attending nonpublic schools whose household income qualifies for free or reduced lunch in North Carolina public schools.
Online applications are being accepted now through midnight Feb. 25 at www.ncseaa.edu and the qualifying entries will be drawn in lottery. Scholarships will be awarded beginning Mar. 3.
The OSP provides funding of up to $4,200 per child per year for eligible children to attend a private school and is overseen by the State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA). Funds are sent directly to the nonpublic school and the student’s parent or guardian must endorse the funds, in person, at the school.
The first scholarships will be awarded for the 2014-15 school year with approximately 2,400 students receiving funding.
The eligibility criteria for the first academic year of the program, 2014-15, differ from subsequent years. To qualify, students must not yet have graduated, have attended a N.C. public school the spring prior and live in a household whose combined gross income does not exceed that required for federal free or reduced-lunch program.
After the 2014-15 school year, students who received an OSP scholarship previously are automatically eligible for another one as are any student in the public system during the 2014-15 year, those entering kindergarten or first grade, children in the foster care system and newly adopted children.
They also must live in a household whose income is not greater than 133 percent of the federal free or reduced lunch income qualification as determined by the Federal Poverty Guidelines in 2015.
Not all private schools, and no homeschools, are eligible to participate in the OSP. A list of the participating schools for the 2014-15 year is at ncseaa.edu and includes nearby All Saints Academy, Rejoice Community School, Rising Star Christian Academy, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, Thales Academy and Wake Forest Montessori School, all in Wake Forest as well as North Raleigh Christian Academy in Raleigh and Calvary Christian School in Louisburg.
Schools participating in the OSP must meet certain requirements, including:
•provide the SEAA with documentation of the tuition and fees charged;
•conduct a criminal background check for the staff member with the highest decision-making authority;
•provide each scholarship recipient’s parent or guardian an annual explanation of student's progress, including scores on standardized tests.
•administer a nationally standardized test to all scholarship recipients in grades three or higher at least once per year and the scores must be reported to the SEAA by July 15
•must provide SEAA with graduation rates of scholarship students
•cannot require any additional fees based on status of the student as a scholarship recipient
•must have a CPA perform a financial review if total scholarships exceed $300,000 and
•report test performance data in the aggregate if the school enrolls more than 25 scholarship students.
Income eligibility for 2014-15 academic year
A student applying for a scholarship for the 2014-15 school year must be from a household with a 2013 annual income that does not exceed the amount required to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. Those amounts are:
Two persons in household — $29,101
Three persons in household — $26,612
Four persons in household — $44,123
Five persons in household — $51,634
Six persons in household — $59,145
Seven persons in household — $66,656
Eight persons in household — $74,167
Note: All gross income received by members of the household must be taken into account.