The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Feb. 24 in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the state's school voucher program.  The case was set to begin today, but has been postponed until next week because of a winter storm warning. The program gives low-income families up to $4,200 for their child to attend a private school.

It was ruled unconstitutional last year, but an appeals court continued to fund the students who had already received the scholarships and allowed future applications to continue.

Darrell Allison is with Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit that supports the program.

“Every child is entitled to a sound basic education in North Carolina, and we believe that it is an extension to hopefully make sure and ensure that--regardless of where you live in North Carolina and what your income status is--you, too, can have the opportunity for that good quality education that you have a constitutional right to,” says Allison.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that marked $10 million to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships. Allison says that money comes from a separate budget that's not earmarked for education.

In order to be eligible for the program, for a family of three, the maximum annual income is $36,612, while a family of four can't make more than $44,568 a year.

But an attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center and law professor at Wake Forest University says the program is unconstitutional. Christine Bischoff will argue the case next week and says the money could be used in schools that can discriminate in their admissions because they are private and don't have the accountability or standards of traditional public schools.

“We think that the voucher program directly conflicts with this constitutional language because you are basically taking public taxpayer dollars that would have gone to public education and you're spending those on unaccountable private schools that aren't free, aren't or uniform or under any state control,” says Bischoff.

The voucher program has received more than 1,400 new online applications over the past two weeks. Allison's group plans to lobby lawmakers for money to meet the growing demand, if the court decides to keep it in place.

The State Supreme Court says it will expedite its decision in the appeal case.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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