As the legal battle over North Carolina’s voucher program continues, the attorney general, legislative leaders and several parents have asked the N.C. Court of Appeals to make an emergency ruling to allow disbursement of taxpayer funds to 1,878 children who had accepted the grants for this year.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled Thursday that a 2013 law to use public money for tuition at private and religious schools violates the North Carolina constitution. He halted distribution of the funds immediately.
The ruling, days after the start of a new school year for some private schools, left hundreds of families who had intended to use the “Opportunity Scholarships” wondering how they would meet tuition bills.
The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority initiated the first of a series of planned disbursements on Aug. 18 for 363 students at 78 private schools. But the transaction had not been completed before Hobgood’s ruling. There were 212 applicants already selected for a second wave of disbursements, but those had not occurred.
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“The Superior Court’s action has thrown the educational future of these students into turmoil,” the state’s petition for emergency intervention states.
Initially, Sept. 19 was set as the distribution date. But that date was moved up to Aug. 15, with little explanation, raising questions among voucher opponents about whether the intent was to distribute money before the judge’s ruling so it would be difficult to recoup.
Hobgood said Thursday that it is up to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to recoup any voucher funds distributed.
The state received more than 5,500 applications for vouchers.
Families in the application pool identified which private schools they wanted to attend, with religious schools being among the top choices. Public schools cannot promote religion, but there is no such restriction on the private schools that take public vouchers.
Also, private schools do not have to give state exams or meet public school regulations. They must, however, give a national exam of the school’s choosing and report results for scholarship students.
The law made $10 million in scholarship money available for up to 2,400 students for a maximum of $4,200 each.
As voucher critics lauded Hobgood’s ruling Thursday, advocates immediately launched their plans for appeal.