Judge to rule Thursday on school voucher program

Posted August 19, 2014 4:21 a.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2014 8:05 a.m. EDT

— Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said he will rule Thursday morning on whether it's constitutional for tax money to be used to pay for tuition at private or religious schools.

Hobgood heard several hours of testimony Tuesday on the permissibility of the "Opportunity Scholarship" program. Passed by the General Assembly in 2013, the program gives annual grants of up to $4,200 to families that want to send their children to private schools.

Taxpayer and teachers groups, as well as many of the state's 115 school boards, are challenging whether the state can spend public money on K-12 tuition at private or religious schools.

The groups argued that spending taxpayer money on private schools is unconstitutional, especially when some of the schools discriminate in their admissions and don't have the academic standards or accountability of public schools.

Advocates say the vouchers allow low-income children to attend schools that meet their individual needs when public schools fail to do so. They also maintain that spending $10 million on the program could save the state money because of the high per-pupil cost in public schools.

Hobgood blocked the state voucher program in February until there could be a trial on the issue, but the North Carolina Supreme Court reverse his ruling in May.

More than 5,500 families applied for the program prior to Hobgood's initial ruling, and the first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was released on Friday.