North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

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Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Misinterpreting the Public Purpose Provision: How Hart v. State Eroded North Carolina's Legal Protections for Education

December 2, 2016

95 N.C. L. Rev. Addendum 1 (2016)


In 2015, for the first time in state history, the Supreme Court of North Carolina determined that nonpublic schools could qualify as constitutionally eligible recipients of public taxpayer dollars. In Hart v. State, the Supreme Court of North Carolina held that the expenditure in question, the Opportunity Scholarship Program (the "Program"), met the standards required for designation as for a public purpose. The Program consisted of a $4,200 per year scholarship voucher to be distributed to eligible students living in households with up to 133% of the income necessary to qualify for free and reduced lunch programs. Subject to certain restrictions, parents and students could use the scholarship money "to attend any nonpublic school." The court's designation of the Program's expenditures as for a public purpose allowed for state appropriations to fully fund the expenditure.


In determining the constitutionality of the Program under the North Carolina Constitution's "public purpose" provision, the court neglected to analyze whether the Program adequately met the minimum educational standards required by prior state constitutional decisions. This Recent Development argues that the court wrongly determined that the Program qualified as a public purpose under the standard applied in Madison Cablevision, Inc. v. City of Morganton because it failed to recognize that the Program did not meet the minimum constitutional standards for state-funded education. Instead, the court should have adopted a heightened judicial standard for analyzing whether appropriations for private educational expenditures qualify as for a public purpose in future cases.



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