Judge refuses to dismiss challenge to NC school voucher law

Posted February 17, 2014

— A Superior Court judge refused Monday to dismiss a challenge to a North Carolina law that allows low-income parents send their children to private or religious schools with taxpayer money.

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 Opportunity Scholarship program.

After denying the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuits, Judge Robert Hobgood set a Friday morning hearing to determine whether to issue an injunction sought by the plaintiffs that would stop the state from issuing any vouchers until the case is resolved.

Thousands of students have already entered the lottery for the 2,400 or so vouchers that will be awarded for the 2014-15 school year. Applications are being accepted online until Feb. 25.

The plaintiffs argue that the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child fund a separate education system and violate the state constitution. School funding should be used exclusively for running "a uniform system of free public schools," according to the lawsuits.

The school boards association also contends that the law fails to require private schools to meet any meaningful educational standards and would allow the money to be used at schools that discriminate in their admissions.

Plaintiffs attorney Robert Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, argued that private schools will be the only beneficiaries of the voucher law because they will decide which and how many voucher recipients to take, and the state constitution doesn't allow for using public money to benefit private schools.

"There is this impression that this legislation is about helping low-performing students leave low-performing or failing schools, and such is simply not the case," Orr said.

State attorneys and a libertarian legal defense group representing parents eager for the Opportunity Scholarship program argue the first scholarships should be awarded as scheduled on March 1.

"The point of the Opportunity Scholarship program is to provide a different educational opportunity for the students of families from lower incomes who want another alternative," Assistant Attorney General Lauren Clemmons said. "This provision is not restricting the state from supporting other educational programs or initiatives."

Dick Komer, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, said parental control over the money used to educate their children is "a fundamental threat" to the public school system. Hobgood allowed the group to join the lawsuit on the side of state attorneys working to preserve the voucher law.

Cynthia Perry of Wake Forest, one of the parents represented by the Institute for Justice, said public schools aren't meeting the needs of her 8-year-old daughter, who has attention-deficit disorder and struggles with reading comprehension.

"I believe with the private-school sector, because the class size is smaller, those needs would be met," Perry said. "I am all for this program. I believe it will work for my child."

Orr said the state already has a raft of educational choices for families – public schools, private schools and home schools – and shouldn't be in the business of boosting the finances of private schools.

Voucher supporters say that, in addition to giving parents more control over their child's education, the scholarship grants save money because private school tuition is typically less than the per-pupil cost at public schools. At an average $8,400 cost to educate a student in public schools, state budget-writers this year estimated $11.8 million in savings resulting from lower school enrollment.

Clemmons also noted that public schools aren't losing any money because lawmakers tucked the $10 million for the voucher program into the University of North Carolina system's annual appropriation.

Plaintiffs attorney Burton Craige called that argument a "budgetary shell game" that still violates the intent of the state constitution.

"Whether the voucher appropriation appears in the budget for UNC or the zoo or the public schools, the effect is the same. Public funds for education are being transferred to private schools," Craige said.


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  • Bart Iannetta Feb 25, 2014
    user avatar

    "It is entirely appropriate that the State then provides a mechanism with an outside group to fulfill its obligation."

    Are you serious? Can anyone pull the wool over your eyes this easily? Do you have any idea what this is all about, and how they want to remove all public education? You must be a seller's dream because naivety will allow you to believe anything.

  • Margaret Bartholomew Feb 21, 2014
    user avatar

    "I hope it will bring in students that we've not had that chance to minister to before," said Linda Barker, a teacher at Raleigh Christian Academy.
    Really! I think this says it all.

  • california girl Feb 20, 2014

    I would love to be able to have the money allocated for my child be attached to my child ( school choice ). My son is adhd and is having a horrible time in public school which does not have the time or ability to teach him. There a private school in Raleigh that specializes in adhd issues but costs a lot of money that I do not have. If i could take the money assigned to my child to this school and make up the difference out of pocket then maybe he wouldn't be so left behind. Instead I am going to home school my child starting next school year.

  • Doug Pawlak Feb 19, 2014
    user avatar

    Glarg-"The schools that these poor children are forced to attend are clearly unable or uninterested in providing a safe and effective learning environment."

    One wonders then why don't they pay the full cost of tuition, all fees, and all transportaion costs so that these poor children really have a choice? They could do it if they wanted and if it was really about "choice".

  • glarg Feb 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The Federal government has an obligation to provide for the common defense. They some times do that by contracting to outside organizations.

    The schools that these poor children are forced to attend are clearly unable or uninterested in providing a safe and effective learning environment.

    It is entirely appropriate that the State then provides a mechanism with an outside group to fulfill its obligation.

  • unc70 Feb 18, 2014

    The State of NC, as agent for the People of NC collectively, has responsibility for the education of the Residents of the State. A societal responsibility for the benefit of all, not the current students or their parents -- free "public" education a fundamental right of each and every resident of NC. (Right to benefits of higher education shall be as free as practicable.)

    It is a State obligation, funded primarily by State appropriations and under State oversight. Certain aspects (mainly the cost for new school buildings) have traditionally been delegated to local county authorities as subdivisions of the State. NC school boards do not have the authority to tax properties nor income. (Thus the Wake school board must depend on the county commissioners for all local funding.)

    When the local authorities are unable (too poor) or unwilling, the State is required to educate all its people. It provides extra funds to counties unable otherwise.

    This bill will be overturned.

  • Atheistinafoxhole Feb 18, 2014

    View quoted thread

    "The plaintiffs argue ... School funding should be used exclusively for running "a uniform system of free public schools," according to the lawsuits."

    This is wording taken directly from the NC Constitution, which is why it is used here. Do you believe the State Constitution is valid? If you don't like it, just push to get it amended - or accept it.

  • Devils_Advocate_13 Feb 18, 2014

    Free? What free? Do these person (artificial entities that only exist on paper) assume that tax dollars come from a magic wand? Who are the plaintiffs? They are not People they are persons (fictitious commercial entities) representing "Public Servants" whom are also persons an a special interest group within the State body corporate. They do not represent the TAX paying PEOPLE or BODY POLITIC. When a fiction sues the State (Body Corporate) it IS suing the Citizens (Body politic) who are HELD by TAXES to PAY the COSTS of this frivolous litigation.

    The entities created under the Laws of this State have no 'unalienable rights' to sue the State Body politic whom do.

    Who are they to be suing 'me' a member of the State body politic? My tax obligations are being driving up because a special interest group from within the State Body Corporate have chosen to organize themselves under a fictitious name and file Suit in the name of those legal fictions to hide their true identify.

  • Ty Shrake Feb 18, 2014
    user avatar

    "The plaintiffs argue ... School funding should be used exclusively for running "a uniform system of free public schools," according to the lawsuits."

    If it were really "free" they wouldn't feel compelled to sue. They know full well this is about cold cash and competition that makes them look bad.

  • Pensive01 Feb 18, 2014

    View quoted thread

    NCGS 95-98. Contracts between units of government and labor unions, trade unions or labor organizations concerning public employees declared to be illegal.
    Any agreement, or contract, between the governing authority of any city, town, county, or other municipality, or between any agency, unit, or instrumentality thereof, or between any agency, instrumentality, or institution of the State of North Carolina, and any labor union, trade union, or labor organization, as bargaining agent for any public employees of such city, town, county or other municipality, or agency or instrumentality of government, is hereby declared to be against the public policy of the State, illegal, unlawful, void and of no effect. (1959, c. 742.)
    As any objective person can clearly see NC Law trumps any dictionary definition you'd care to use. Yes I know you don't care, as your numerous inaccuracies demonstrate, but facts are facts and the law is the law.