Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood rules on the North Carolina private school voucher program. Still courtesy WRAL.

RALEIGH, N.C. — A Superior Court judge on Thursday ruled North Carolina’s private school voucher program unconstitutional, citing violations such as religious discrimination and the use of public taxpayer funds to support a system of private education.

The new Opportunity Scholarship Program would have allowed approximately 5,500 student to receive grants up to $4,200 each year for private school tuition. According to Raleigh news station WRAL, the first $730,000 in tuition funds for more than 360 students was released last Friday.

Judge Robert Hobgood, however, ruled the new program unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from dispersing any more taxpayer dollars for private and religious schools.

Hobgood also ruled that the new scholarship program pushed public money to schools that can discriminate in admissions and are not required to maintain curriculum or teacher certification standards.

“Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose,” he said. “The clear legislative intent beyond a reasonable doubt is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

Hobgood continued, “It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into nonpublic schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound basic education in public schools as mandated in the Leandro decision.”

The suit was brought by North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina School Boards Association and dozens of local school boards.

The ruling today means private schools, including those with anti-LGBT discriminatory, religious policies and doctrines, will no longer be able to receive state funds. One such school, Wilmington’s Myrtle Grove Christian School, voluntarily withdrew from the scholarship program after controversy surrounding its policies last fall. Myrtle Grove’s admission policies require students and parents to sign a statement agreeing not to support or participate in “sexual immorality, including homosexuality and bisexuality.”

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina has supported the voucher program. Its president, Darrell Allison, called the ruling “a temporary roadblock.” The group, it appears, will appeal the ruling.

“We’re going to continue to fight for a parent’s right to choose the educational setting that works best for their children – by any means necessary,” Allison said in a statement. “It is difficult to accept the idea that a certain number of children will be forced to languish in an educational setting that isn’t working for them.”

Read more about the ruling at WRAL…

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.