State Supreme Court Rules ‘Opportunity Scholarships Program’ is Constitutional
Rep. Paul Stam says ruling is the final decision in this case
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 23, 2015
RALEIGH – The Opportunity Scholarship program approved by the Tar Heel Legislature in 2013 will be able to live up to its name, offering more opportunities for low-income students to attend the schools of their choice, thanks to Thursday’s ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court.
“We rejoice over this decision, not only because many of the schools involved are faith-based institutions, but primarily because families whose children are struggling will now have more options, more ways to help them succeed,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
The state’s High Court reversed Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s 2014 ruling against the vouchers, which was based on the fact that private schools do not have to admit all students and are not required to use the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as public schools. Opponents of the scholarships had claimed they would drain funding from the public schools even after drafters of the legislation pointed out that the $10 million to fund the grants was never appropriated to the public schools in the first place, but to the State Education Assistance Authority, a separate entity which administers college loans and grants.
The N.C. Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that the program is constitutional ends the legal challenge to the scholarships.
“Today’s ruling is the final decision in this case. It cannot be appealed to the federal courts. No federal claims were raised,” wrote Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) in a blog entry on the issue, adding that he hoped even more families would apply for the program. Rep. Stam was the champion for the Opportunity Scholarships program.
To be eligible for the grants, which can be as high as $4,200, families’ household income must not exceed 133 percent of the threshold to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. During the 2014-15 school year, some $6 million in Opportunity Scholarships were awarded to 1,200 students attending 224 schools. More than 1,100 of them have reapplied, joining the 4,800 applicants for the 2015-16 school year.
“We will work to expand funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program this legislative session so more parents can choose the right educational setting for their children,” Stam said.
For 2015-16, the Senate and House Budgets have each allocated $17.6 million for scholarships that would serve about 4,400 students.
Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, told the media his organization is “thrilled for the many low-income students currently on the program and the many more who need this option in the future.”
Stam and Allison won’t be the only ones celebrating. A March 2015 poll by the Civitas Institute showed overall 68 percent of North Carolinians support the Opportunity Scholarship program with strong support across multiple demographics.