RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A massive spike in applications to North Carolina’s school voucher program means most higher-income families won’t receive financial help for the coming year even though the General Assembly did away with income caps on the program. There simply isn't enough money to accommodate a six-fold increase to 72,000 new applicants this year, all seeking subsidies to send their children to private K-12 schools through the Opportunity Scholarship program, according to reporting by the The News & Observer of Raleigh and WRAL-TV.

Lawmakers in 2023 also opened first-time grants to current private school students.

NORTH CAROLINA REPORTS OVER 400,000 ENROLLED IN MEDICAID EXPANSION PROGRAM

State law requires the program to first offer scholarships to existing voucher holders. More than 32,500 students received them this year. Next come the lowest-income applicants -- for example, a family of four that makes a maximum $57,720. Families earning up to twice that amount are prioritized in the next group.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has called for a moratorium on expanding the school voucher program until he says public schools are fully funded. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

The authority said it awarded new vouchers for the maximum amount of $7,468 per child to over 13,500 applicants from the lowest-income tier, according to the media reports. Applicants must decide by April 19 whether to accept the award.

Based on the numbers so far, only some applicants in the next tier will receive scholarships, the authority said. Those applicants are eligible for $6,722 per child. How many will get an award depends on how many applicants from the lowest income bracket accept their offers.

There is no money available for higher income groups — like families of four making over $115,440 annually — the authority said.

Lawmakers provided $293.5 million for the program for the 2024-25 school year, The News & Observer reported. The current state budget envisions transferring more public money to scholarship funds over the next decade, reaching over $500 million annually by fall 2031.

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It’s still possible for the General Assembly to increase next year's voucher funding to assist more students. The budget-adjustment session begins April 24.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a longtime critic of the scholarships, has called for a moratorium on expanding the program until he says public schools are fully funded. Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

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