The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional today.
The decision reverses a ruling by Wake County Superior Court and leaves the program intact. The Opportunity Scholarship Program, enacted in 2013, provides scholarships of up to $4,200 to low-income families to send their children to the school of their choice.
Institute for Justice (IJ) Senior Attorney Dick Komer, who served as lead counsel for two families who intervened in the case, says the continuance of this choice program is a win for all students.
“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,” Komer said, in a press release. “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.”
In 2014, Judge Robert Hobgood put the program on hold and then ruled it unconstitutional. The families represented by IJ appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, which allowed the program to continue while the cases were under consideration. According to IJ, the state Supreme Court, in a somewhat surprising move, took the cases before the Court of Appeals heard them. The Supreme Court decided the North Carolina constitution “specifically envisions that children in our state may be educated by means outside of the public school system.”
“The battle to save the Opportunity Scholarship Program was hard-fought for over a year,” IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty said. “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 says she 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.”
Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.
Image by DES Daughter.