- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - There’s a new chance that North Carolina students will receive taxpayer money for private or religious school tuition next fall after the state Supreme Court decided Wednesday to remove an order freezing the new program.

The program created last year to provide what opponents call “vouchers” and supporters call “opportunity scholarships” had been blocked by a lower court judge’s order since February - days before a lottery to determine the first 2,400 student recipients.

There’s a lot to do before annual grants of up to $4,200 a year per student can flow, and it’s not clear the program will be ready in time for the start of the next school year in August, State Educational Assistance Authority executive director Steven Brooks said.

“There would be a great deal of work to do,” Brooks said.

The agency would have to compress months of work into weeks. That includes verifying the income of applicant families, conducting a lottery for the grants, notifying the parents of the top 2,400 students, informing the others that they’re on a waiting list, and taking applications from private schools that want to participate, said Richard Komer, an attorney representing two parents who want to use the program. Finally, parents would need to shop for the private school best for their children.

“There’s not a lot of time left to get all of this done,” said Komer of the Arlington, Va. -based Institute for Justice. “But there’s probably enough time left that if there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood blocked the program in February until the issues raised in two lawsuits could be fully considered at a trial.

Lawyers for two dozen taxpayers and groups representing teachers and many of the state’s 115 school boards had challenged whether it was constitutional for the state to spend public money at private or religious schools, even if that’s what parents wanted.

“The prudent thing would have been to answer these important constitutional questions before the state started spending public money on private schools,” North Carolina School Boards Association executive director Edwin Dunlap Jr. said in a statement

More than a dozen states had tuition tax credit programs as of last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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