State names more private schools cut off from public voucher program
Officials who administer North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program said this week that in addition to the Johnston County private school that was forced to return public voucher money, four others statewide have been removed from the program over the last five years.
The School Education Assistance Authority recently revealed that Mitchener University Academy, about 35 miles southeast of Raleigh, was forced to return $37,319 earlier this year when the state learned that the school had inaccurately reported enrollment and student withdrawals. The state also stopped distribution of about $300,000 that would have gone out for the second semester, and turned the information over to the State Bureau of Investigation.
The authority’s Kathy Hastings McDonald told WFAE that’s only happened once before in the nine-year history of the scholarship program. In 2017, Vance County Learning Center in Henderson, between Raleigh and the Virginia state line, “was deemed ineligible for failure to return $4,200 in scholarship funds owed back to SEAA and was reported to the SBI,” McDonald said. It’s not clear if the SBI investigated the school, or what the outcome of that case was.
The Mitchener University Academy situation came to public attention when WFAE inquired about a North Carolina Justice Center report that flagged the school as having received public scholarships for 149 students in 2021-22, a year when the state’s private-school directory said it had only 72 students.
WFAE followed up by asking how many other schools have been removed from the program in the past five years. In addition to Mitchener, McDonald listed the following schools. She said none of them received money they were not entitled to, and were not forced to repay anything.
- Oasis Performing Arts School, in Charlotte, failed to submit test scores, a tuition and fee schedule and a criminal check on the school’s leader, as required by law. Because of that, they got no scholarship money in 2021-22, the authority says. In 2020-21, the school received $12,600.
- Assembly of Faith Christian School, in the Gaston County town of Dallas, was deemed ineligible for failure to submit test scores, “but no scholarship money was disbursed to them in the 2022-23 school year.” The school got $13,440 in 2021-22.
- Academy of Excellence, in Statesville, was declared ineligible after failing to provide a criminal history check in 2022. But the school had not had scholarship recipients enrolled since 2018-19, when it got $3,800.
- Jefferson Day School, in Winston-Salem, failed to submit test scores in 2022 and was declared ineligible to receive money for that school year. It received $6,300 in 2020-21.
According to the Opportunity Scholarship report, 25,651 students enrolled in 544 private schools across North Carolina received vouchers for the school year that just ended.
There’s increased public scrutiny now because Republicans in the General Assembly are moving to dramatically expand the voucher program — from about $95 million in the past year to almost $416 million in 2025 and more than $500 million a year starting in 2031. They’re also looking to remove income caps that have restricted the vouchers to low-income families, opening eligibility to every student in the state.