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In a 4–3 ruling, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled July 23, 2015 taxpayer-funded opportunity scholarships that allow students from low-income households to choose to attend private schools are “constitutional.”
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Mark Martin wrote, “Our review is limited to a determination of whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that the program legislation plainly and clearly violates our Constitution. … Plaintiffs have made no such showing in this case. Accordingly, the trial court erred in declaring the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional.”
This overturned a 2014 ruling by North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood. Hobgood, in that ruling wrote, “Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose.”
Education policy experts were enthusiastic about the ruling.
“This is a huge win for students and parents in the state of North Carolina, as well as supporters of school choice everywhere,” said Heather Kays, managing editor of School Reform News. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides low-income families with the ability to have more control over their child’s education. Rather than leaving these students in traditional public schools, which may be under serving them or simply may not be a good fit, this choice program allows parents to decide the best educational opportunity for their child.
“Traditional public schools now have even more reason to improve their quality and performance,” said Kays. “The Institute for Justice, which worked on the case, and the families who appealed the ruling against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, deserve commendation, as does the court for its decision.”
The scholarship program is only available to students whose household income is less than 133 percent of qualification for free or reduced lunch. The amount of the scholarship is $4,200.