As the North Carolina Supreme Court considers the future of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the North Carolina Family Policy Council has joined a friend of the court brief encouraging the high court to uphold the school choice program for lower income students. NC Family joined eight other organizations, including the Christian Legal Society; the Liberty, Life, and Law Foundation; state and national Christian school associations; and Catholic and Evangelical religious organizations, in filing the amici curiae brief.
“We are honored to participate in this friend of the court brief, and we urge the North Carolina Supreme Court to uphold the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program,” said John L. Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “Parental choice is an integral part of ensuring that children have access to a ‘sound basic education’ as guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution, and this educational grant program helps enable qualifying parents to select the school that will best serve the educational needs of their children.”
The Opportunity Scholarship Program allows families with qualifying incomes to apply for educational scholarship grants of up to $4,200 per child, per year to help cover the costs of sending their children to a participating non-public school.
The North Carolina Association of Educators and North Carolina School Boards Association have challenged the law, alleging, in part, that the program violates the State Constitution by directing public funds to private and religious schools.
The State Supreme Court heard oral arguments (view proceedings on WRAL.com) in two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Opportunity Scholarship Program on February 24, and the Court is expected to determine whether the scholarship program will be able to continue in the 2015-2016 school year. The Court’s decision will not only impact new applicants to the program, but also over 1,800 students currently receiving educational grant scholarships.
In the friend of the court brief, proponents of the program assert, “The Opportunity Scholarship Grants (OSG) program enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly 2013 serves the laudable – and at the very least constitutionally permissible – goal of increasing the choices that families have for educating their children.” The brief also points out, “multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases make clear that when a program of educational aid involves ‘true private choice’ – where a religious school receives government aid only because individuals choose, under neutral criteria, to use that aid at the school – then the actions of the school are not attributable to the state to show an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.”
As we previously reported, state lawmakers initially set aside just over $10 million for the scholarships for 2014-2015 and added another $840,000 for the 2015 spring semester. Thousands of parents have already applied for scholarships for the upcoming school year. A random selection lottery is scheduled in March to determine which qualified applicants will receive the limited number of available scholarships.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the State Supreme Court, as it determines the future of the program in North Carolina.