Parents & IJ Defend New N.C. School Choice Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · February 14, 2014

Parents for school choice in North Carolina have a new, seasoned national advocate on their side.

On January 30, the Institute for Justice—the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice—filed a motion with the Wake County Superior Court to intervene on behalf of North Carolina families in defense of North Carolina’s new Opportunity Scholarship Program. The school choice program is now under assault in two separate lawsuits. The first lawsuit was brought by the North Carolina Association of Educators. The second was brought by the North Carolina School Boards Association and 40 local school boards. These parties seek to limit the educational choice of others. For a brief video on the case, go to:

The Institute seeks to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of North Carolina families who wish to participate in the program. For the past 20 years, the Institute has litigated in state and federal courts nationwide—including before the U.S. Supreme Court—to protect school choice programs. The Institute successfully defended scholarship programs that are similar to North Carolina’s in Indiana, Milwaukee and Cleveland. Today’s hearing at the Wake County Courthouse will determine whether the Institute may intervene in the lawsuit. The court will also hear the state of North Carolina’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin the program during the course of the lawsuit.

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer said, “We will vigorously defend the Opportunity Scholarship Program on behalf of parents who rely on it to give their children the quality education they deserve. We will prevail, not just for our clients, but for families across the state who want true educational choice.”

Komer said, “The Opportunity Scholarship Program is on firm constitutional footing because the North Carolina Constitution allows the Legislature to aid parents who are exercising their right of educational choice. Empowering parents to send their children to private schools is perfectly legal so long as those funds come from general state funds, which is where this program is funded. The bottom line is that the lawsuits filed against the program are all bark and no bite.”

“When only 30 percent of low-income children in North Carolina are considered proficient according to the NC Department of Public Instruction, it is clear that these children are not receiving a ‘sound, basic education’ as guaranteed by our state constitution,” said Darrell Allison, President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). “The Opportunity Scholarship Program was designed to help fulfill this right to a sound education where regardless of your ZIP code or lack of income, children would still have a chance of obtaining a good education. To deny the more than 3,000 parents who have applied for the right to participate in this program, to me, is not only unconscionable but unconstitutional.”

North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, signed by Governor Pat McCrory in summer 2013, will provide up to 2,400 scholarships worth up to $4,200 to low-income families to send their children to private schools. If parents don’t think that their children are receiving a good education in their current public school, the program will help them to pay for a private school that better suits their child’s educational needs. To be eligible, families must also be eligible for the federal free and reduced-price school lunch program, which means there is an income cap of about $44,000 for a family of four. The program started accepting applications on February 1, 2014, and will begin awarding scholarships on March 1, 2014. “This case is about who should control the education of low- and middle-income children in North Carolina,” said IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty. “The Legislature, the governor and the Institute for Justice believe parents should direct a child’s education, but the North Carolina Association of Educators and the school boards believe they should have the power to limit other people’s choices—that low- and middle-income parents should not have the freedom to select among the widest variety of educational options. That is why they filed these lawsuits.” Flaherty pointed out, “Most Americans already have school choice: they choose to live in a good school district or they can afford private school. School choice is widespread—unless you’re poor. Through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the North Carolina General Assembly is giving low-income families the same educational choices that wealthier families already enjoy.” IJ client and school choice mom Cynthia Perry has a school-age daughter who wishes to attend a private school. Perry said, “We need to get this program up and running now.”

Perry’s daughter Amiyah (called “Faith”) has trouble with reading comprehension and has already had to attend summer school twice. Perry is afraid that, if Faith stays in the public schools, she will slip through the cracks and have to repeat third grade. Perry has lost confidence in the public schools and has applied for an Opportunity Scholarship so that she can send Faith to a private school. Perry is a single mother who cannot afford to send Faith to private school on her own—she needs the financial lifeline of an Opportunity Scholarship.

IJ also represents single mom Gennell Curry, who has two children she would like to have participate in the program. Curry started all of her children in public schools, but after she became dissatisfied with the education and treatment her children were receiving, she transferred them to private schools in Durham, and then to Christian Faith Center Academy when they moved to Creedmoor. Due to a change in financial circumstances, she was forced to move her three younger children back into public schools. She hopes to send her two sons back to Christian Faith Center Academy with the help of the program. Curry knows that her children belong at that school—and that the program would enable them to return to the school that allowed them to thrive.

Curry said, “The Opportunity Scholarship Program will be a godsend if my children receive scholarships that enable me to send them back to Christian Faith Center Academy.”

“North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is about providing true educational choice to North Carolina families, said Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “The North Carolina Association of Educators and School Boards Association claim that the North Carolina Constitution requires that the State give parents no other choice but to keep their kids trapped in public schools. But that is simply untrue. The Constitution allows the state to empower parents to choose the best school for their children—whether they choose a traditional public school, a charter school or a private school.”