Judge: Students Can Use Opportunity Scholarships This Fall | Beaufort County Now | About 2,400 children taking part in the state's fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program know they will receive money to help pay tuition, letting them attend private schools this fall. | Carolina Journal,public,private,charter,school,education,opportunity,scholarship,program,berger,tillis,thom,supreme court judge,robert hobgood

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Judge: Students Can Use Opportunity Scholarships This Fall

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Berger and Tillis also allowed to intervene in lawsuit


    RALEIGH     About 2,400 children taking part in the state's fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program know they will receive money to help pay tuition, letting them attend private schools this fall.

    On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied an effort by plaintiffs in the case to prohibit distribution of the Opportunity Scholarships before he rules on a motion for summary judgment in the case.

    "The money is going to go out around Aug. 15," said Renee Flaherty, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which is helping parents of the students seeking the vouchers. "All the kids [who] were awarded scholarships for this year are going to get their scholarships and attend private schools."

    Hobgood also allowed House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit and help defend the program, which the General Assembly approved last year.

    "This is very good news," Flaherty said.

    Wednesday's order is in stark contrast to one Hobgood issued in February, when he imposed an injunction blocking implementation of the Opportunity Scholarships program.

    In May, the N.C. Supreme Court lifted that order.

    Flaherty said Hobgood's refusal to block distribution of the scholarships was consistent with the N.C. Supreme Court's order.

    "I think Judge Hobgood felt like the Supreme Court sent him a signal that the program is constitutional," Flaherty said.

    Last year, the General Assembly enacted a law allowing vouchers to provide up to $4,200 in scholarships for children from lower-income families to offset the cost of attending private schools. The law limited the scholarships to 2,400 students in its first year. Since about 4,500 students applied, a lottery was needed to determine which students could receive the scholarships.

    Legislative leaders on Tuesday said that an additional $800,000 would be in the 2014-15 budget to provide money for more children to attend private schools. That budget has not been approved.

    Plaintiffs, including the N.C. Association of Educators and the N.C. School Boards Association, contend that the Opportunity Scholarships program is unconstitutional, citing a provision in the N.C. Constitution requiring tax money to be "used exclusively" for public schools.

    Defendants say the plaintiffs are misreading that provision of the state Constitution, and that there is no constitutional barrier to using tax dollars for vouchers.


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