North Carolina's State Capitol Building

North Carolina's state Capitol building in Raleigh, N.C.

(The Center Square) – A group of North Carolina parents took to the state Capitol on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to expand the state's private school scholarship program.

Melanie Osborne, a single mother of five, said North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program transformed her children's lives. Osborne noticed in 2000 her eldest daughter was not being pushed academically in her public school.

"I felt she was underserved, and I felt that she wasn't going to get what she needed," Osborne said.

Her eldest daughter, Laura, said she finished her assignments ahead of everyone else in her a seventh-grade class and often would feel bored.

Melanie Osborne later found out about opportunity scholarships. The program provides state-funded tuition assistance up to $4,200 a year for private education. Osborne is one of three parents who asked members of the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education on Wednesday to expand programs such as the opportunity scholarship.

After receiving the scholarship, Osborne enrolled Laura in a private school. Laura was able to take more rigorous classes and participate in activities that were not available at her local public school. Osborne later was able to get private school vouchers for her quadruplets. One of the quadruplets has special needs and qualifies for a disability grant.

"It was very nice for her to be able to do that, and the fact that I was able to take her out and choose a school that I knew met her needs and her sisters' needs," Osborne said. "It was life-changing. You could see a difference in my children within months of being at the school."

Laura graduates high school at the end of the school year and just found out she was accepted to Harvard University. Attending the Ivy League school always has been a dream for the high school senior.

"I've had so many opportunities that I found just because I was able to move schools," Laura said. "That is how I'm able to be who I am today. That is how I'm here today, and that is how I essentially got all the opportunities I needed to be able to apply to Harvard with the correct resume."

The committee voted to advance Senate Bill 671 to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate, pushing it one step closer to becoming law.

The bill increases the income eligibility threshold and award amount for the Opportunity Scholarship program. It boosts outreach and marketing for scholarships. It also merges the Special Education Scholarships for Students with Disabilities and Personal Education Savings Accounts into the Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities. Together, the programs award up to $17,000 a school year for students with disabilities. SB 671 also raises the amount of the newly formed special needs scholarship.

The House voted April 13 to approve House Bill 32, 69-49. It also increases funding for the scholarship programs and is being considered by the Senate.

Both bills must be approved by a full vote in both chambers of the General Assembly before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for final consideration. Cooper has recommended spending less on opportunity scholarships in his budget proposal for the next two years.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.