RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina was hardly the first state to authorize taxpayer-funded scholarships and grants for children to attend private schools, but it’s becoming one of the most prolific.

GOP lawmakers have approved three such initiatives since 2013. Under the most recent, approved last summer, parents of children with disabilities could receive $9,000 annually on a debit card to pay for private-school tuition, educational therapies or certain equipment. And nearly 7,000 students benefited last year from North Carolina’s first two programs. The debit-card program begins next fall.

Jason Bedrick with school-choice advocacy group EdChoice says North Carolina is ahead of the curve among the 30 states with programs.

Groups representing North Carolina school boards and teachers oppose vouchers and say lawmakers are taking money away that the schools can’t afford to lose.

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