Judge halts NC school voucher program

Posted February 21, 2014
Updated February 25, 2014

— A Superior Court judge on Friday issued an injunction blocking a North Carolina law that allows low-income parents to send their children to private or religious schools with taxpayer money.

Judge Robert Hobgood's ruling prevents the state from holding a lottery next month to award about 2,400 vouchers for the 2014-15 school year.

About 4,700 students have applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, called Opportunity Scholarships, with about half of the applications coming from Mecklenburg, Wake, Cumberland and Guilford counties, officials said.

Voucher supporters said the program would give low-income parents another educational option when public schools aren't meeting their needs. They also argued that spending $10 million on the program could save the state money because of the high per-pupil cost in public schools.

"This is about schools failing individual students as determined by the parents. No parent wants to move their child from a school for the hell of it. They do it because they’re unhappy," said Dick Komer, an attorney for Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which joined the North Carolina Attorney General's Office in defending the Opportunity Scholarship program.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association filed separate lawsuits against the law passed last year by the General Assembly. Dozens of local school boards also are challenging the legality of the program.

The opponents argued that spending taxpayer money on private schools is unconstitutional, especially when some of the schools discriminate in their admissions and don't have the academic standards or accountability of public schools.

The Wake County Public School System could lose up to $3 million in state funding as students with vouchers head to private schools, but Edwin Speas, an attorney for the opponents, said the program would hurt rural counties the most.

"If five students in Hyde County accept the voucher, (the district) will lose the equivalent of funds to employ two teachers. That's a big blow in a small system," Speas said.

Komer said the vouchers would affect "a relatively tiny proportion" of overall school funding in the state.

Assistant Attorney General Lauren Clemmons said halting the program only creates uncertainty for the families who have applied for vouchers.

"You have to consider the impact on these families," Clemmons said. "We have the harm to these families if this program is halted ."

Lawyers for both sides said the suit could be tied up in the courts for more than a year.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, who co-sponsored the law that created the Opportunity Scholarships, said he was disappointed by the setback to the program.

"The only constitutional issue the judge ruled on can be fixed in the short session (of the General Assembly) just by appropriating another $11 million to the public schools, and I’m sure we’ll be appropriating more than that for the next fiscal year," Stam said. "So, this is a temporary roadblock."


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  • teacher2X4 Feb 28, 2014

    Look at demographics in our schools now. Who scores the highest on standardized tests? Students from Asian descent typically score higher. Why is that? Is it because schools in China are better? No, these are students born in the USA and lived here their whole lives, yet they consistently score higher on standardized tests. Why is that? It is because their families place a higher priority on education and are involved. Education is the priority in their culture, even when they live here.

  • Charlie Watkins Feb 26, 2014
    user avatar

    The judge is doing the Republicans a favor. Vouchers will go nowhere. The public schools are the biggest monopoly in the world and will never stand for competition from vouchers. This is a big loser for the Republicans and the school system will punish them severely in the next election. The Republicans need to drop vouchers now!

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 25, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The NC Satanic, Islamic and Wiccan schools agree with you.

    They can't WAIT to get their hands on some of that public money...so, they can increase their reach to other impressionable children's minds...paid for by you and me.

    So, congratulations on promoting religion! How does that feel now? I mean, you just seem passionate about giving public money to schools promoting Satan, Allah, witchcraft, etc., right...?

  • Kenny Dunn Feb 24, 2014
    user avatar

    Let us all hope this decision stands.

  • teleman60 Feb 24, 2014

    The voucher program was a Trojan Horse to get money going to private schools. THEN THE WEALTHY FILE DISCRIMINATION SUIT - complaining the poor get to spend THEIR education dollars at private schools, WHY CAN'T WE? They would probably the same as they will lose the gay amendment - "all citizens must be treated EQUALLY UNDER THE LAW"!!!!
    Those ALEC lawyers went to law school somewhere!

  • ALECarolina Feb 24, 2014

    Ya gotta love that disingenuous line of malarkey from the bleeding heart conservatives, huh?

    "We're doing it out of concern for those poor POOR kids"

    This hypocritical outrage comes from the same crowd who have done everything in their power to punish those poor POOR kid's parents.......spitefully refusing to expand Medicaid, taking MONTHS to process SNAP applications, not setting up a competitive ACA exchange in NC, and slashing unemployment benefits to struggling North Carolinians, still in limbo that resulted from the Bush Depression.

    Never mind that spending taxpayer money on private education is in direct violation of NC's Constitution, either. Funny how it's cool with the "Constitutional Scholars" to completely ignore one item that was already in the NC Constitution, but they amended it to outlaw certain people from getting married....when it was ALREADY illegal in NC......and NOW they claim that "those people" can't get married because the NC Constitution FORBIDS IT.


  • goldenosprey Feb 24, 2014

    "sadly, liberalism continues to lower the bar on education in order to claim more students as a success. UGG!! I'm enrolled in an online program through ECU" arfamr

    The problem isn't liberalism. It's ECU. You expect iambic pentameter? (Just kidding guys, sorta)

    I was bussed to the sorriest schools in my NC city and I still achieved a good post graduate education because my parents and I cared about school, by far that is the single most important factor. My kids go to good public schools, but they are made to do extra service and educational projects.

    This voucher baloney is designed to subvert public schools and teachers, line the pockets of some enterprising educational Harold Hills, and satisfy the cravings of rapture-awaiting Bible thumpers.

    It never was and never will be about "the children."

  • tracmister Feb 24, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Prove it. There is no data to support that private schools are better. Someone pointed that one private schools has a one hundred percent college acceptance rate. However, they do not supply the number of college drop outs or which colleges accepted them.

  • Olenc Native Feb 24, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Any evidence that it is failed?

  • Alex25 Feb 24, 2014

    Keep supporting the FAILED Govt education monopoly. Just great!!