Appeals court releases school voucher money for hundreds of NC students

Posted September 19, 2014 1:50 p.m. EDT
Updated September 19, 2014 3:51 p.m. EDT

School voucher generic, Opportunity Scholarship

— The state Court of Appeals on Friday released taxpayer money to hundreds of North Carolina families who had been awarded vouchers to send their children to private or religious schools.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood last month declared the Opportunity Scholarship program unconstitutional and ordered a halt to any disbursement of state funds under the program.

The appellate court left that order in place for anybody who was to receive money after Hobgood's Aug. 21 ruling, but the court said the 1,878 students who had already accepted vouchers they had won in an earlier lottery should receive the money, pending the outcome of an appeal in the case.

"Today’s historic decision allows nearly 2,000 students already enrolled in the Opportunity Scholarship program to continue to attend their new schools with confidence and security for this school year," Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which backs vouchers, said in a statement. "We will continue to push for an expedited answer on the merits of the case, which we believe will ultimately be upheld as constitutional."

About 5,500 students applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, and the first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was about to be distributed to schools when Hobgood halted the transactions.

Hobgood ruled that the private schools can discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as North Carolina's public schools. He also accused state lawmakers of trying to get around the constitutional guarantee of providing a sound education to low-income students by shifting them to private schools that aren't bound by that requirement.

Both sides declared victory Friday.

“Today’s ruling is welcome news for thousands of North Carolina families seeking to provide what’s best for their children," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a voucher supporter, said in a statement.

“We are pleased that the court will not allow future taxpayer money to be used to fund private education while appeal of the case is pending,” Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which opposes the voucher program, said in a statement. “NCAE advocated that no funds be released prior to a court decision and also advocated for a hearing schedule that would have eliminated this inconvenience to parents and students.”