More than 5,600 new students have applied to receive Opportunity Scholarships, or school vouchers, for next school-year. That's up from about 3,400 the same time last year.
The state began offering the $4,200 vouchers in 2014 to low-income students who want to switch from public to private schools. Kathryn Marker runs the program at the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA). She notes the increase comes after the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld vouchers against opponents who objected to giving public dollars to private and religious schools.
"There was a lot of uncertainty," Marker said, referring to last year.
Since the start of the program, the amount of scholarship funding actually accepted by students has fallen far short of the amount lawmakers set aside. In 2014-2015, students accepted about half of the $10.8 million allocated. In 2015-2016, lawmakers increased voucher funding to $17.6 million. Students accepted just $5 million.
The voucher fund will grow to $24.8 million next school year, enough for around 6,000 students.
Marker says the court battle may have been holding down the program's growth in past years.
"There was controversy, and some of that's been settled, and perhaps families are feeling more confident that the program is stable and is going to be here for a while."
Marker says families and schools are also more aware of the program now that it's a few years old, and thanks to advertising by the non-profit Parents for Educational Freedom.
"They (families) understand better how it works, and the schools themselves are better able to understand it and explain it to the families," she said.
Greensboro Islamic Academy and Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville were the top two earners for school voucher dollars last school year--each with around 80 voucher recipients.