By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 14, 2014
North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program — the Legislature’s plan to use $10 million to fund 2,400 $4,200 grants to help low-income families send their kids to private schools — got a green light of sorts from the state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Although a lawsuit against the program, passed by lawmakers last July, is still pending, the High Court put a hold on an Appeals Court ruling that had kept in place a preliminary injunction issued by a Superior Court judge.
“Today’s historic decision vindicates the over 4,500 parents who applied for their child to receive an Opportunity Scholarship and puts parents back in the driver’s seat of their child’s education,” Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said in a press release.
“We commend the court for allowing the Opportunity Scholarship Program to proceed and listening to the true voices of this debate, the parent-plaintiffs, who chose to stand up for their child’s fundamental right to a ‘sound, basic education’ and refused to be defined by their income level or ZIP code. These parents applied for this program, qualified for this program and now have the opportunity for their child to attend the participating private school of their choice this fall.”
Dr. Joe Haas, executive director of the North Carolina Christian School Association, called the ruling “tremendous” as it would once again open the door of opportunity for children whom he said were “put in a no man’s land and caught up as pawns” as the program landed in a legal quagmire.
Championed by Rep. Paul (Skip) Stam (R-Wake) among other lawmakers, the Opportunity Scholarship Program set aside funds to be administered by the State Education Assistance Authority and given to families who qualify for free and reduced cost lunches. Despite bipartisan support, the new law came under attack immediately by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the N.C. Justice Center, who claimed it violates the state constitution by diverting public education funds to private schools. However, as Stam has pointed out, the money for the scholarships was never appropriated to public schools but to the SEAA, which administers college loans and grants.
The high demand for the program was revealed when more than 4,500 applications were received in less than a month, with more than half of them originating from Mecklenburg, Wake, Cumberland and Guilford counties.
“Parents spoke …” said Allison, “making North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program the first school-choice program in the country to be oversubscribed in its first year.”
Haas said private schools that had applied to be included in the program can now began to make tentative plans for the fall, plans that can be firmed up as the program gets back on track and applicants chosen via a lottery are informed of their selection.
“This is good news for students and for the state, as the scholarships will save money since the amount spent on the grants is less than the per pupil rate for public schools,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Allowing more choices for parents will help families throughout the state. We’re glad to see this ruling from the state’s High Court and hope it’s a harbinger of the final outcome of the lawsuit.”