Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam released the following statement this afternoon regarding the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling earlier today that “Opportunity Scholarships” for children are consistent with the state constitution. Representative Stam is a long-time advocate of the program, which benefits economically disadvantaged children. Representative Bell was an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
Today, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an opinion declaring the Opportunity Scholarship Program to be constitutional. Today’s ruling is the final decision in this case. It cannot be appealed to the federal courts. No federal claims were raised.
“Two-hundred and twenty-four schools worked with parents to allow students to attend the school of their choice while awaiting today’s court decision. More families will now have realistic access to educational options for their children,” said Representative Stam (R-Wake).
During the 2014-15 school year, Opportunity Scholarships were awarded to 1,200 students attending 224 schools. Over 1,100 of these students have reapplied, joining the 4,800 applicants for the 2015-16 school year. In 2014-15 $10.8 million was appropriated for the program. Scholarships worth a total of $6 million were awarded to students. For 2015-16 the Senate and House Budgets have each allocated $17.6 million for scholarships that would serve about 4,400 students.
A recent study (June 2014) by the Friedman Foundation shows strong support nationally for school choice. Support for Opportunity Scholarships (vouchers) was strong with 63% in favor (33% opposed). The South showed the strongest support with 66% in favor (30% opposed). The study shows significant support across age groups, political affiliation, areas of the country and parental status.
A more recent poll by the Civitas Institute (March 2015) also shows substantial state support for the Opportunity Scholarship program. Participants were asked the following question: “The Opportunity Scholarship Grant program in North Carolina was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in July of 2013. The legislation provides eligible, low-income students with vouchers of up to $4,200 to attend the school of their choice. Do you favor or oppose the Opportunity Scholarship Program?” Overall 68% supported the program (24% opposed) with strong support across multiple demographics.
North Carolinians want students to be able to attend the school of their choice regardless of address, political affiliation, age, income, or race. Rep. Stam stated, “We will work to expand funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program this legislative session so more parents can choose the right educational setting for their children. I hope that families will take advantage of the program and continue to apply for the upcoming school year.”
Information on the Opportunity Scholarship program is available on the State Education Assistance Authority’s website, as well as at this North Carolina school choice site. Families may also contact the SEAA at 855-330-3955 (toll-free). For a PowerPoint explaining the program, visit this link.
Be sure to read this editorial by Brian Lewis, former political director and chief lobbyist of the North Carolina Association of Educators and a one-time critic of the Opportunity Scholarship program. For more information on the original legislation, click here.