Today, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional. The program, which was enacted in 2013, helps low-income parents to afford private school for their children whose needs aren’t being met by public schools. Today’s decision reverses a ruling by the Wake County Superior Court, and settles any doubts about the constitutionality of the program going forward.
“When it enacted this scholarship program, the North Carolina legislature joined nearly 20 other states that have seen the wisdom of giving parents additional educational opportunities for their children,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer, who is lead counsel for two families who intervened in the case. “The great thing about school choice programs like North Carolina’s is that school districts can no longer take low-income students’ continued attendance for granted. Today’s decision means that families using scholarships not only get access to schools better able to meet their children’s unique needs, but the districts now have an incentive to better serve their students. School choice benefits all students.”
The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides scholarships of up to $4,200 to low-income families to send their children to a private school of their choice. A cloud has hung over the program since February 2014, when Judge Robert Hobgood put the program on hold and then ruled the program unconstitutional in August 2014. The families represented by the Institute for Justice brought their appeal of Judge Hobgood’s decision to the Court of Appeals, which allowed the program to continue while the court considered the cases. In a surprise move, the Supreme Court took the cases before they were heard before the Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court held that the North Carolina constitution “specifically envisions that children in our state may be educated by means outside of the public school system.” Indeed, the Court recognized that not only do the North Carolina families receiving these scholarships benefit from them, but that the “ultimate beneficiary” is the citizens of North Carolina.
Now, eligible families will be able to send their children to private schools that serve their needs, and the entire state will benefit from this new program.
“The battle to save the Opportunity Scholarship Program was hard-fought for over a year,” said IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty. “This fledgling program can now serve North Carolina citizens for years to come by ensuring that parents have the freedom to choose educational options that meet their needs.”
IJ client Cynthia Perry will be sending her daughter, Faith, to a private school with an Opportunity Scholarship.
“This program has made it possible for Faith to leave the public schools and to attend a school that is right for her, and we could not be happier that the Court recognized parents’ right to choose the best school for their child,” said Perry. “Faith’s future is now brighter because of the Court’s decision.”
More information on the case is available at: http://www.ij.org/ncchoice