State: North Carolina

North Carolina sets largest expansion of school choice in 10 years in motion

Do you live in North Carolina and attend private school or hope to in the future? Thanks to the state’s new budget, all families will soon be eligible to apply for North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program. This program provides scholarships for students’ private school expenses, including tuition and book fees. Once the scholarship expansion is in effect next school year, the Tar Heel State will rank with Florida and Arizona in offering one of the nation’s largest school choice programs for families!

What’s changing about the Opportunity Scholarship program?

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program, originally enacted a decade ago for low-income students who wanted to choose a private school environment, has become a well-loved option for families. In the 2022-2023 school year, about 25,500 lower-income students used the scholarship program to choose the best learning environment for them. Now, lawmakers have expanded eligibility for the scholarship program to all students, starting in 2024. 

While opening the doors for any family who chooses private school to receive financial support, the new program still aims to serve low-income families first and foremost. Low and middle-income students already receiving the scholarship will receive first priority for scholarship renewal next year. Then, remaining scholarships will be awarded to students on a sliding scale according to income. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches (from a household with an income of less than $55,000 for a family of four) will be awarded scholarships first and will receive the largest scholarship amounts, up to about $7,400 for the school year. 

If this change makes you newly eligible to apply for the scholarship, you may be wondering: “What amount of scholarship funding could my child receive?” Here are estimated scholarship amounts for families with incomes above the free and reduced-price lunch threshold: 

  • Students in households that make between 100% to 200% of the amount needed to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can receive up to 90% of scholarship funding, about $6,600. 
  • If sufficient funds remain, students in households that make between 200% and 450% of the amount needed to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can receive up to 60% of scholarship funding, about $4,400. 
  • If sufficient funds remain, students from households that make more than 450% of the amount needed to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can receive up to 45% of scholarship funding, about $3,330. 

Besides eliminating income requirements to apply, there are a few other ways the budget makes the private school scholarships available to more families. First, the bill increases funding available for the Opportunity Scholarship program, allowing more scholarships to be awarded each year. Second, the bill removes the requirement that an applicant must be entering kindergarten or have attended public school the previous year. Now, any K-12 student can apply, including current private school students or homeschool students who wish to switch to private school.

With these expansions and given the program’s budget cap, the Opportunity Scholarship program will be able to serve more than double the current number of scholarship recipients next school year!

What can an Opportunity Scholarship pay for? What can’t it pay for?

When a student is awarded an Opportunity Scholarship, they endorse their scholarship funds to the private school they are attending. Then, the private school receives a direct payment from the state on behalf of the student. Funds are primarily applied for private school tuition. However, the scholarships don’t have to stop there — they may cover fees for books, transportation, equipment, or other items required by the private school. 

Currently, this scholarship program is limited to private school expenses. Families do not directly receive the funds and the funds cannot be used for home education expenses. While families choosing to homeschool are not currently eligible for the program, families enrolled in a microschool may be eligible, if the microschool is officially registered with the state as a private school and as a direct payment school. 

Does your child participate in North Carolina’s Personal Education Student Account for Children with Disabilities program? Students with disabilities who receive an education savings account are still eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship; accessing both may help families afford both private school tuition (through the Opportunity Scholarship) and additional education therapies (through the education savings account). 

How can I apply for an Opportunity Scholarship?

Private schools are a popular choice, often offering small class sizes or curriculum steeped in a religious or cultural tradition. Nearly 127,000 students currently attend one of North Carolina’s  more than 800 private schools. While not every private school participates in the Opportunity Scholarship program, more than 600 do. Are there schools you’re interested in that participate in the scholarship program? To find out, check the list of participating schools at the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority

To apply for a scholarship, families should head to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. Applications can be completed online. New student applications are accepted starting February 1, and priority applications are due by March 1.

If selected for a scholarship award, families may be asked to verify their household income, as well as their choice of private school. Once participating, families will receive offers annually to renew their scholarship. If a family decides to transfer between schools, their scholarship award can be sent to their new school, as long as it is one that participates in the program.

Families who are applying to the scholarship program should keep in mind that, along with expanding the scholarship program, the new budget adds accountability requirements. For example, if your student is a scholarship recipient in third grade or eighth grade, they will be required to take a nationally standardized test chosen by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. More details on this requirement will be available soon!

Does this impact me if I love my public school and plan to keep choosing it?

The budget also makes a few key updates for public school students that you’ll want to know about. For example, it launches a new track for high school students at traditional public schools and public charter schools in North Carolina who wish to complete credits and graduate in three years. 

To encourage participation in this accelerated track, the bill creates the Early Graduate Scholarship Program, a scholarship for those who graduate early from public high schools. North Carolina students who graduate from a public high school within three years of entering ninth grade and who submit a FAFSA may be eligible to receive one of these scholarships. Early graduate scholarships will help cover tuition costs at an eligible college, such as a North Carolina community college. 

If your child attends a public charter school or you are considering a charter school for 2024-2025, you may be interested in ways the charter landscape is changing. This year, North Carolina lawmakers created a new Charter School Review Board with the power to grant, renew, and terminate charters in the state. The state budget affirms that the review board has this authority. This signals more flexibility for charter schools looking to open in upcoming years, and more access to charter options for families.

Finally, here are a few more budget highlights that may impact your child’s learning experience: 

  • The budget increases funding for North Carolina’s education student accounts for children with disabilities.
  • The budget includes an average 7% increase in teacher pay for the next two school years, as well as funding for students who are studying to become teachers. 
  • The budget includes school safety grants, plus investments in salary supplements for school counselors and nurses, and additional school health personnel positions.
  • The budget helps offset the costs of reduced-price meals for more students.

Where can I learn more?

Together, these public and private education changes represent one of the biggest expansions of education options for North Carolina families in the past decade! North Carolina is in good company as it expands K-12 options for families— 19 other states have already said “yes” to expanding school choice in 2023. Now, nationwide, more than a third of K-12 students are eligible for a state-run private school choice program. Besides making private school more affordable, states have expanded public school transfer options, created more flexibility for homeschoolers wanting to take part-time courses at local schools, and improved online learning options. 

If you live in North Carolina and are looking for help in navigating your school options, reach out to Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina for support. You can also explore North Carolina’s learning options with, the state’s school finder website.

North Carolina State Guide

Choosing a school? You’ve got options.

If you live in North Carolina and are curious about school choice options for your child, this post is for you. Where you send your child to school impacts whether they are inspired, happy, and equipped for success, and you may have more school options than you realize! This post will breakdown the main types of schools available to you in North Carolina, as well as provide additional education resources. 

North Carolina has a variety of learning environments to choose from. You can choose from traditional public schoolspublic charter schoolspublic magnet schoolsprivate schoolsonline learninghomeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in North Carolina at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

North Carolina Traditional Public Schools

Most children (67.1% of all K-12 students) in North Carolina attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that North Carolina spends an average of $10,655 per public school student each year? 

Most states have some form of open enrollment, which refers to whether parents can send their child to a public school other than their assigned school. This is an important choice, widening parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education. Unfortunately, North Carolina families generally do not have open enrollment options.

There are, however, a few circumstances where a transfer might be possible. For example, a student may be able to request a school transfer if they move during the school year, if they are a child of an employee at the school they wish to transfer into, or if they are experiencing a unique hardship that would be mitigated by a transfer. For a real-world example, you may wish to check out Lenoir County Public Schools’ transfer request form.

There are also some districts, like Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, that have “choice zones” giving families a few options of schools to choose from.

Find out more about public schools in your state at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”

North Carolina Charter Schools

Charter schools represent another free, public school choice that is open to all students. These schools are distinct from traditional public schools in that they have extra freedom to innovate. Charters are accountable to authorizing entities for student achievement. Charter schools can share the fruits of their innovation with traditional classrooms. 

The 2022-2023 school year marked 25 years since charter schools first opened in North Carolina. Today, the state has about 200 public charter schools and more than 8% of public school students attend a charter school. Six additional charter schools are approved to open in 2024.

Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a Spanish immersion program or offering a rigorous STEAM curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.

Free transportation may be available to some students who attend charter schools in North Carolina and live within the district where their charter school is located. Students with special needs and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are eligible for transportation assistance.

You can also check out the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.

North Carolina Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. If there is one near you with a theme that interests your child, this could be a good school fit. In North Carolina, 9.1% of all K-12 students attend a public magnet school.

North Carolina has many magnet schools throughout the state. Some districts with magnet schools or programs include Cabarrus County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Durham Public SchoolsSurry County Schools, Guilford County Schools, Gaston County Schools, Onslow County Schools, Wake County Public School System, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

North Carolina’s magnet schools have themes that range from international languages to cosmetology, and from Montessori to digital marketing. In Raleigh, Washington Magnet School was recently named the top magnet elementary school in the nation! The 100-year-old school has a Gifted and Talented theme with 200 elective choices. 

We interviewed one North Carolina magnet school, Atkins Academic and Technology High School. Principal Joe Childers described the philosophy of magnet programs this way: “When kids enjoy where they are, if kids feel engaged, that’s half the battle. If kids have an interest or feel connected, they’re going to try harder.”

North Carolina Private Schools

In North Carolina, private schools (nonpublic schools that charge tuition) come in all shapes and forms. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. There are more than 780 private schools across the state of North Carolina.  The average tuition for private schools in the state is $9,056 for elementary schools and $10,066 for high schools.

North Carolina offers an expansive private school choice program that makes choosing a private school more accessible to all families, especially low-income families. Currently, 1.6% of all K-12 students are participating in a private school program in North Carolina. Starting in 2024, any family in the state can apply for an Opportunity Scholarship, which can be used for private school expenses, including tuition and transportation. Low-income families will receive priority for scholarships and the largest scholarship amounts, up to about $7,400. You can find all the details in our full explainer. North Carolina also offers flexible scholarships for students with special learning needs through the North Carolina Personal Education Students Accounts for Children with Disabilities Program (ESA+).

For a deep data dive into North Carolina’s private schools, check out this analysis of the state’s private school landscape

Learn more at the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh School Directory and Private School Review: North Carolina.

North Carolina Online Learning

Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Free, full-time online learning options available to families statewide include North Carolina Virtual Academy North Carolina Virtual Public School, and North Carolina Cyber Academy, which serve grades K-12.

Additionally, middle school and high school students may enroll in online courses part-time via North Carolina Virtual Public School. Especially in rural districts, some students use North Carolina Virtual to take classes not offered at their local school, such as an Advanced Placement class, STEM class, or alternative class. Public school students interested in attending North Carolina Virtual Public School should connect with their school’s e-learning advisor, since enrollment takes place through local schools and North Carolina Virtual Public School does not grant diplomas. Students not enrolled in public schools may be required to pay tuition. 

There are also some district-run online or blended options, such as Crossroads Flex High School, Charlotte Mecklenburg Virtual Schools, Granville Academy, Buncombe County Schools Virtual Academy, Iredell-Statesville Schools’ iACADEMY, and Guilford e-Learning. A new partnership between NC State University and North Carolina Virtual Public School has created the Virtual School Network to support and connect local traditional public schools offering virtual learning.

To read more about online learning in North Carolina, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

North Carolina Homeschooling

Many North Carolina families (6.8% of all K-12 students) choose homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home.  In North Carolina, notice of your intent to homeschool is required prior to starting. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school, you should notify the NC Division of Non-Public Education and contact your local principal for the enrollment process.

While the state doesn’t lay out specific subjects that homeschooling families must teach, it does require that homeschooling students take a standardized test annually. Unfortunately, children who are homeschooled may face roadblocks if they want to participate in public school sports or activities in North Carolina. But, you can always look for other sports leagues and co-ops!

North Carolina offers funding assistance for students with disabilities, including homeschooled students, through a state-funded program.

We talked to one homeschooling mom and co-op leader, Kristin Jackson. Jackson never expected to try homeschooling. But, her son’s medical needs started her on a homeschooling journey that has turned her into an advocate. Now she’s working to spread the word about homeschooling as an education choice. 

“We’re really looking to get the word out, especially to minorities,” said Jackson. “A lot of people of color don’t know about the opportunities to homeschool or they feel like it’s not something that people of color do. In Charlotte, there’s more than 600 families in our Facebook group alone, people in Charlotte and within the outskirts of Charlotte that homeschool. There’s a huge, thriving community for whatever you’re interested in.” 

As of 2023, more than 150,000 students are homeschooling in North Carolina. Find a great how-to about North Carolina homeschooling at the Home School Legal Defense Association. You can also find resources on the state’s Department of Public Instruction page, and at North Carolinians for Home Education

North Carolina Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning

Today, some North Carolina families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners. 

Here are a few real examples of microschools and innovative learning resources in your state:  


  • Roots School is a private membership association based out of Durham that provides families the freedom to choose how their child will learn. 


  • Burbrella Learning Academy operates an in-person microschool in Burlington, as well as an online learning microschool for non-local families. 


  • Sometimes learning pods are district-run. For example, Edgecombe County Public Schools in rural North Carolina won a grant to test out learning hubs as a way to give students of all ages more flexibility in their education. The district is also experimenting with early learning pods for three and four-year-olds. Similarly, Guilford County Public Schools has partnered with community organizations to launch learning hubs and give students a blended learning option.  



Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school. 

Download the School Choice Snapshot for North Carolina

Download Snapshot

What is School Choice

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

Read More

Choosing the Right School

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

Get Tips

Search for Schools Near Me

School Type
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.
Grade Levels

Microschooling and Mix-and-Match Learning

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

Read More

7 Step Guide

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

View Guide

Education Resources for
North Carolina Parents

For additional information about school choices in
North Carolina, visit these resources:

Every state is different when it comes to school choice options.

Sign up below to get a detailed comparison:

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Landmarks Across America Shine for School Choice Week 2024!

Did you witness the magic of National School Choice Week 2024? Starting January 21st, close to three dozen landmarks and notable buildings from Alaska to New York lit up in dazzling shades of yellow and red and created a vibrant celebration of K-12 education opportunities!


JL Tower in Anchorage, Alaska

January 21-27, 2024



Junction Bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas

January 26, 2024

Little Rock

Main Street Bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas

January 26, 2024

Little Rock

Union Plaza in Little Rock, Arkansas

January 21-27, 2024

Little Rock


“M” at Box Springs Mountain in Moreno Valley, California

January 26, 2024

Moreno Valley

Union Station in Los Angeles, California

January 21-27, 2024

Los Angeles


Las Olas Centre in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

January 21-27, 2024

Fort Lauderdale

Platt Street Bridge in Tampa, Florida

January 22, 2024


Kennedy Blvd Bridge in Tampa, Florida

January 22, 2024


Old City Hall in Tampa, Florida

January 22, 2024



One Atlantic Center in Atlanta, Georgia

January 22, 2024



Aloha Tower in Honolulu, Hawaii

January 21-27, 2024



8th and Main Tower in Boise, Idaho

January 21-27, 2024



The Wrigley Building in Chicago, Illinois

January 25, 2024


Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois

January 21, 2024



AES Building in Indianapolis, Indiana

January 21, 2024



Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

January 21-27, 2024

Baton Rouge

State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

January 21-27, 2024

Baton Rouge

The Governors Mansion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

January 21-27, 2024

Baton Rouge


Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota

January 26, 2024



Waldo Water Tower in Kansas City, Missouri

January 21-27, 2024

Kansas City


Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha, Nebraska

January 23, 2024


New York

Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York

January 24, 2024


North Carolina

550 South Tryon Tower in Charlotte, North Carolina

January 27, 2024



Dublin Link Bridge in Dublin, Ohio

January 26, 2024


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio

January 21-27, 2024



Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma

January 21-27, 2024


SkyDance Bridge in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

January 25, 2024

Oklahoma City


Salem Convention Center in Salem, Oregon

January 20, 2024



The Symphony House Condo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

January 26, 2024


Koppers Building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

January 24, 2024


Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

January 24, 2024


South Carolina

Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, South Carolina

January 21-27, 2024



Columbia Town Center in Seattle, Washington

January 23, 2024



Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center in Laramie, Wyoming

January 23, 2024 


If you know of a building in your community that would light up for National School Choice Week, please reach out to our team! Send us an email.

For journalists covering the Week, more information and resources to enhance your coverage on a variety of platforms can be found on our media resources page. For families interested in discovering more about the different school choice options available in their home state please visit your state page for a detailed roadmap.

National School Choice Week (NSCW) informs, inspires, and empowers parents to discover the K-12 education options available for their children, including traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and homeschooling.

Every January, tens of thousands of schools, organizations, and individuals plan unique events and activities to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options in their communities.  The Week is a project of the nonpartisan, nonpolitical National School Choice Awareness Foundation.