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Families wait as voucher program faces uncertain future

Posted March 15, 2014
Updated March 16, 2014

— Ask Raleigh resident Wanda Medina about her son Adrian’s latest sixth-grade school project, and she can’t help but smile.

“He’s really good at math,” Medina said. “He’s really good at building stuff. He built an entire castle out of boxes all by himself. I think he’s going to be an engineer one day.”

Medina applied for a voucher through the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that grants up to $4,200 in vouchers to parents to enroll their child in a private or religious school rather than a public school.

“I want him to have the same thing I had — the opportunity to go to college,” Medina said.

Now, that opportunity is in limbo.

Legislators set aside $10 million in the state’s budget, enough to provide vouchers for up to 2,400 students. The state Education Assistance Authority planned to hold a lottery in February to choose applicants from the pool of over 5,000, but a Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction, halting the voucher program.

The North Carolina School Boards Association filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the program. The group said that the Opportunity Scholarship vouchers violate the state’s constitution.

“The legal question is whether using tax dollars for a private school is for a public purpose, that’s one of the major issues,” said plaintiff’s attorney Robert Orr.

Orr said the bill also fails to require private schools to change their educational standards to align with public schools.

“We had over 5,000 applications from low-income families going online to apply who said, ‘We need an option, and we need it now.’” said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. “

Allison said the decision deprives low-income parents of the chance to pick their children’s education and puts their children’s educational future on hold as they wait for a legal decision on the program.

“We have to do something,” Allison said. We cannot allow poverty to dominate the very thing that’s going to liberate a child to achieve the American Dream in North Carolina.”

Opponents say voucher money could be better spent improving public schools across the state.

“Teachers, facility, technology, there are a host of areas if you are going to use tax dollars, you have to benefit the public, not the individuals.” Orr said.

Allison said voucher proponents have not yet filed an appeal. Orr said he expects a notice of appeal within the coming months, likely before May when next year’s education budget will be finalized.

“It’s inevitable,” Orr said. “It’s just a matter of when.”


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