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January 15, 2015 12:00 pm
NC Family president John Rustin talks with Karen Duquette, vice president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, about the current status of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, an educational scholarship program enacted by the General Assembly in July 2013 that is currently being challenged in two federal lawsuits.
This is family policy matter program is produced by the North Carolina family policy Council of profamily research and education organization dedicated to strengthening and preserving the family, and often the studio hears John Rushton, president of the North Carolina family policy Council, thank you for joining us this week for family policy matters.
It is our pleasure to have Aaron Duquette on the program and as VP of currents for educational freedom in North Carolina or PEF NC where she manages the day-to-day operations of the organization. She also works with PEF NC president Darrell Allison and directing the organization's legislative outreach and policy priorities. Karen is with us today to talk about the current status of the state opportunity scholarship program which is an educational scholarship program enacted by the Gen. assembly in July 2013 that is currently being challenged into federal lawsuits will be talking with Karen about the school choice program in the latest court rulings in the federal lawsuit challenging Karen.
It's great to have you with us on the program.
Well, it's great. We really appreciate the partnership that we have with you all and and the great work that you will do down in the legislature and across the state in promoting school choice at such a critical component of parental rights and parental freedoms to select education that is most important and best for their children before we talk about the legal challenges to the program and its current status tell us briefly about the opportunity scholarship program and its purpose scholarship program at the Brandy program. It just started full year and essentially it allows going on family elders for this year that qualify for free and reduced lunch to apply for the scholarship that gives them up to $4200 a year to attend a private school and actually and we had about 300 schools participate in a really good showing support for this program is great and I know that some parents may believe that pay $4200 may not be that much.
But for a lot of the private schools and religious schools across the state. You know that would be sufficient to cover just about cover tuition for the year would not get done pulling on naturally freaks out to about 90% of private schools in our state and the majority of them are in the under 5000 under $6000 range. So what we've seen is where there is maybe a small discrepancy in payment. The parents are able to make that happen felt or the schools have used their own private financial aid to supplement the program in some situations. We'd even seen family members picking or even the parents at the school come in and say hey you know will make up that difference that's been a really good community support program up while we see a lot of people did the plate and say hey you know we want our family to attend will come up with a different board will have forgiven the different Medicaid. How many low income parents applied for the opportunity scholarship program in its first year 2000 1415 school year and how many scholarships were actually awarded while the program application started February 1 and in a little under a month I did last minute. It was shut down in that time. We had over 5500 applications, of which about 4500 of those were eligible for the program and so the program was oversubscribed in its first year, and so every single spot was awarded just short of 2400. In the meantime because the lawsuit that has trailed down a little bit by the demand for this program has been overwhelming and you can tell that there truly is a need for this type of program where lower income family but for an update scholarship program would not yield attend school that better fits their needs about slots that were available actually applaud the shows overwhelming interest and desire among parents and students are precious to God about opportunity well.
Karen is originally the opportunity scholarship program is currently being challenged into federal lawsuits followed by opponents old school choice. Shortly after it was enacted tell us briefly about the lawsuits and what groups are behind them using in this case because the plaintiff are not the parents in a situation that the intervening center and so there are two groups primarily behind lawsuits against uppercase scholarship program there. See North Carolina satiation educators or more probably noticed the teachers union for lack of a better word here as well as Nortel and the school board satiation to visit the two main groups that don't want to see this program go forward. They have several individual plaintiffs that are on their case as well and so the Institute for justice is a national organization that fights for school choice and other initiatives and through group. We had intervening defenders where defendants were two parents came in and said hey you know I want this program. This program benefits my family and if this program is around then my family will be stuck at a school that isn't working for us to know are you taking us away from so since then there's been a lot of change. We had the real point when told about the arguments that the group opposing opportunity scholarships is made in the well. One of the arguments was that it's funneling money away from the public school system. The traditional public school system and we've been able to counter that in two ways.
One was legislatively that the program has always been allocated out of a separate general funds appropriated from the general fund, not the education fund so that in itself should say that it's distinguishable from the public school funds that we have. Secondly, the legislature session actually restored a small amount of money that these groups have specifically targeted as saying that there is money coming out of the sky and into this other pot pay for this program that has been restored as well. See you really can't even use that argument. There also saying you know things like outgoing to religious institutions.
There's no differentiation air, but in fact herein is one that ultimately make that decision. There's no public funding going directly to the school that parent themselves has to sign in or endorsed that check over to the school and we don't have a brain amendment like we do in other states where no public funding can go into the hands of religious institutions. So really all their arguments kind of fade away and if you look at beyond K-12.
If you look at our pre-k program as well as our university system.
We have lots of programs where state funding is going to these specific programs and so I don't see how she be any different for the K-12 that we look at all that comprehensively we feel very confident that the update scholarship program will be allowed to go forward. Hopefully this can be a confusing issue to try to understand the status of the opportunity scholarships in North Carolina because of all the legal action was taken place and so we want to talk about the no back in August 2014 a Superior Court judge ruled that the scholarship program is unconstitutional and he prominently enjoined the state from issuing funds to students who had been awarded the scholarships. Opponents of the program celebrated. This decision is the beginning of the for the opportunity scholarship program but actually that's not what happened. Subsequently, on September the Nortel Court of Appeals issued a really pivotal ruling in the case that essentially allow the program to move forward. Talk about the Court of Appeals ruling.
Karen if you would, and how significant it is to the lawsuits in the future of opportunity scholarships in North Carolina actually been kind of a roller coaster back in February. There was a temporary halt on this program by the same Superior Court judge and then and maybe cream court lifted that temporary injunction allowing the program to go forward so in that time span. You had several families applying getting excited for the school year. He had several schools decide to Hayward in a status three were in the register and then guest in August. There is an unfortunate permanent injunction that happened right as school is spreading. So you had some scholarships that had been in school for a week.
You had some that were looking forward to starting the next week and then all of a sudden there's this permanent injunction putting all of these families and schools and just and just turmoil and chaos. So fortunately that the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Surprisingly, we didn't think that they would accept quickly but they allowed for those that work only in a program. Those that had accepted the scholarship to move forward for that school year. They were able to attend their schools and really really is fortunate as well, though. In the interim, before the payments were received to the family for their school tuition. We had an overwhelming response from private school saying hey you know what were committed to this program are committed to these families. No matter what happens this year were going to see it out for for this year and allow these families to continue so I thought that that was very encouraging.good sign that Kennedy's private schools are in it for the money they're in it to serve families who want a better opportunity for their children.
December 2014, the Supreme Court issued an important will the lawsuits tell us about what it means. Though even more encouraging. The Supreme Court decided to take on the case themselves that actually bypass the Court of Appeals and that hey, this is such an important issue to us since North Carolina.we are to make a decision right here on that these families don't have to wait forever and so essentially what they agreed to is an expedited appeals process so will actually be hearing the case, extremely thin, as well as allowing the application process to begin. For this coming school year and I think that that's a really strong sign that they are supportive of this program because that's essentially allowing the North Carolina State education assistance Authority taps the authority to run this program. They bought for this ruling disorder. They would not have been allowed to even start the application process for the slot fall school year and by doing so, we know there is in a take staff time and in money so I think that's a really strong indicator that is program will be allowed to continue indefinitely because he still caught up in the courts would be wondering if it is worthwhile to apply for the scholarship program for the next school year advice do you have for parents and for students who are interested in applying for opportunity scholarships, but who may be hesitant because of the ongoing legal battle and whether these resources and this opportunity will be available to them. Cheryl, I would definitely say Galahad and apply this Kennedy a short window.
The applications we've been told may be available as early as mid-January but will definitely by law be available by February 1.
And it could be as short as a month that those allowed to continue that they will be available to the public. So if you work currently. If you are currently in the scholarship program. You definitely need to apply to that you can have first priority in the scholarship program for next year and if you are in a new family interested in applying actually goes up slightly this year. Whereas this school year with hundred percent free and reduced lunch so lawfully an income of about $44,000 for a family for actually going up to 133% communities lunch. So, roughly 58, $59,000 a year for a family of four great job in promoting the value of these opportunity scholarships and the importance of this education choice to parents all across North Carolina. Unfortunately, it was nearly out of topper this week. I'm sure listeners are very interested in where they can get more information about parents for educational freedom in North Carolina and opportunity scholarship program working.
I do that Karen had a couple of ways. They can always call our office and that phone number is 919-871-1084. Recommend visiting the websites the authorities official page where you'll need to apply it and see the North Carolina SD state education AA as an assistance Authority.edu.
Click on the K-12 grant in the three can apply for the official option scholarship program will also have information on school choice and see.org and we will be updating that scene with a new calculator to see if you prequalify for the uptake scholarship program to me be happy to speak to anyone who has additional questions. Either schools bore. Thank you so much for your Tom you work in promoting printed choice of education which a lot of this really encouraging results come out of the courts and we hope and pray that they will ruling favor of the continuation of opportunity scholarship programs and in favor of parental choice in education in North Carolina secure. Thank you so much for spending some, this talk about this today while we appreciate your partnership in all that you are well think again that this family policy matters is information and analysis of the North Carolina family policy Council known as weekly discussion on policy issues affecting the family. If you have questions or comments, please call 919-0708 visit our website and see family. One