NC Supreme Court to hear school voucher appeal

Posted October 10, 2014 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2014 1:04 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday said it will decide the constitutionality of the state’s Opportunity Scholarships program, which gives public money for low-income students to attend private and religious schools.

The case was pending before the state Court of Appeals.

“All parties should be delighted with this development because the case was ultimately headed for the N.C. Supreme Court regardless of the decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals,” Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said in a statement. “This will expedite the decision regarding this appeal case.”

The program, which was passed by lawmakers last year, drew thousands of applicants who applied for annual grants of $4,200 per child. The first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was about to be distributed to schools when a Superior Court judge in August halted any disbursement.

But last month, the appellate court allowed 1,878 students who had already accepted the vouchers before the judge’s ruling to receive the money.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association have filed separate lawsuits against the voucher law. Dozens of local school boards have also challenged the legality of the program.

The groups argue 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.

Voucher supporters said, however, that the Opportunity Scholarships program would give low-income parents another educational option when public schools aren't meeting their needs. They also maintained that spending $10 million on the program could save the state money because of the high per-pupil cost in public schools.

Stam, one of the sponsors of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, said he’s confident the program will remain in place and be allowed to expand.