Hart v. State: Opportunity scholarships litigation
Abbreviated name: Hart v. State of North Carolina
Court assigned case numbers: Wake County 13CVS16771; N.C. Court of Appeals P14-659; N.C. Supreme Court 372A14
All plaintiffs: Alice Hart, Rodney Ellis, Judy Chambers, John Harding Lucas, Margaret Arbuckle, Linda Mozell, Yamile Nazar, Arnetta Beverly, Julie Peeples, W.T. Brown, Sara Piland, Donna Mansfield, George Loucks, Wanda Kindell, Valerie Johnson, Michael Ward, T. Anthony Spearman, Brittany Williams, Raeann Rivera, Allen Thomas, Jim Edmonds, Sasha Vrtunski, Priscilla Ndiaye, Don Locke, Sandra Byrd
Defendants: State of North Carolina, North Carolina Education Assistance Authority
Defendant Intervenors: Cynthia Perry, Gennell Curry, (parents represented by counsel) (“Parent Defendant Intervenors” and Thom Tillis, Phil Berger (in capacity as speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate, “Legislative Officers Defendant Intervenors”)
Plaintiffs are taxpayers and challenge the constitutionality of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (“OSP”) legislation that provides scholarships of up to $4,200 for eligible North Carolina school children to use at private schools for primary and secondary education. Trial court judge Robert Hobgood ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the OSP legislation violates several of the education provisions in the North Carolina Constitution (Article I, Section 15, Article IX, Section 2(1), Article IX, Section 6) as well as the provisions requiring a public purpose (Article V, Section 2(1) and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion (Article A, Section 19). The State, along with the Defendant Intervenors appealed the decision. Defendant Intervenors also requested a stay of the decision in order for the program to continue to be administered during the appeal. The North Carolina Court of Appeals permitted the disbursement of funds to applicants who had accepted the scholarships as of August 21 but not for those after this date.
Latest action/Next steps
Defendant-Intervenors submitted a motion for supplemental relief on June 23 to the Supreme Court, requesting a modification to the December 12, 2014 order in order to allow disbursements of scholarship proceeds (vouchers) for the 2015-16 school year. The Defendant-Intervenors note in their brief that the Supreme Court accepted the case on expedited appeal and heard oral arguments in February. The next scheduled date for the Supreme Court to issue opinions is August 21 – which is six days after the schedule for disbursements for the 2015-16 school year.
On October 10, 2014, the Supreme Court issued an order to review the case prior to a determination by the Court of Appeals. This was at the initiation of the Supreme Court rather than one of the parties. The Defendant-Intervenors Thom Tillis and Phil Berger (“Legislative Officers”) sought for the case to be heard on an expedited schedule and to permit the State Education Authority to proceed with preliminary administrative steps necessary to prepare for the 2015-16 academic year. On December 12, 2014, the Supreme Court allowed both motions, except that no funds can be released without further order of the court. On December 23, 2014, the Supreme Court denied a motion to consolidate the two cases, Hart v. State and Richardson v. State by the parent-defendant intervenors. The oral arguments are scheduled for February 17 at 9:30 a.m.