The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that the state may make public funds available to help children attend private and religious schools.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports that the 4-to-3 decision overturns a lower court ruling and frees up $10.8 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to a small number of students in lower-income families so that they may attend private school.
"No prohibition in the constitution or in our precedent forecloses the General Assembly’s enactment of the challenged legislation here," Chief Justice Mark D. Martin wrote for the majority.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robin Hudson wrote that the scholarship program provided no assurances that the participating private schools would meet the state's educational standards.
"When parents send their children to any private school of their choosing on their own dime, as they are free to do, that education need not satisfy our constitutional demand that it be a for a public purpose," Justice Hudson wrote. "However, when public funds are spent to enable a private school education, that spending must satisfy the public purpose clause of our constitution by preparing students to contribute to society. Without meaningful standards meant to ensure that this or any minimum threshold is met, public funds cannot be spent constitutionally through this Opportunity Scholarship Program."
The scholarship program provides up to $4,200 a year per student and is available to students whose household income does not exceed 133 percent of the income threshold to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.