Saying that challengers to North Carolina’s recently-enacted school voucher program had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood today stopped the program from moving ahead, pending a final resolution of two lawsuits currently before him.
State officials had already moved forward with the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the face of those lawsuits. At least some of the $400,000 budgeted for administration of the program had already been spent, and more than 4,000 applications for vouchers received.
Attorneys for parties challenging the voucher program argued that the state constitution required funds for purposes of public education be used “exclusively” for free public schools.
But the state responded that only funds specifically earmarked for public education must be spent “exclusively” for free public schools. Here, state attorneys said, the General Assembly lawfully appropriated $10 million from the General Fund – not funds set aside for public education – for the Opportunity Scholarship program. It was a new appropriation for a new program, they argued, placed within the budget for the state’s university system.
Attorneys for those challenging the program also argued that taxpayers would be harmed if the program was allowed to proceed while the cloud of unconstitutionality hung over its head. Once taxpayer funds were spent they could not be recovered, and the state might then be bound to recipients for funds coming from a program likely to be declared unconstitutional.
“The state would like to turn the tax spigot on until millions and millions are spent,” former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr told Hobgood.
Read more about the case here.