@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

NC Supreme Court says vouchers are constitutional

Posted July 23, 2015

School voucher generic, Opportunity Scholarship

— The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Thursday that the state's voucher program that gives taxpayer support for low-income students to attend private schools is constitutional.

"Our review is limited to a determination of whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that the program legislation plainly and clearly violates our constitution," Chief Justice Mark Martin wrote for the majority. "Plaintiffs have made no such showing in this case. Accordingly, the trial court erred in declaring the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional."

The court's ruling reverses Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood's 2014 ruling that the program ran afoul of requirements that the state provide a sound basic education to all students. Hobgood found that the voucher program is problematic because private schools can discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as public schools.

Proponents of vouchers say they give struggling students and students in failing schools a chance to move to a private school that meets their needs.

"We join the thousands of families across the state who are celebrating today because the court has given them the legal right to exercise educational choice through the Opportunity Scholarship program," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. "We are thrilled for the many low-income students currently on the program and the many more who need this option in the future."

Opponents say that the program takes money from public schools and allows public funds to go to schools that may teach based on a religious curriculum.

In her dissent, Associate Justice Robin Hudson said that the Opportunity Scholarship program does not meet the requirement that taxpayer funds be used for only public purposes. She referenced the long-running "Leandro" case, in which the court has hectored North Carolina lawmakers to do more to ensure schools are properly funded.

"However, a large gap opens between Leandro-required standards and no standards at all, which is what we have here," Hudson wrote. "When taxpayer money is used, the total absence of standards cannot be constitutional."

Although all seven justices were chosen in nonpartisan elections, Thursday's decision betrays a rare partisan split between Martin and the three other justices who are backed by Republicans and Hudson and two fellow Democrats.

The current voucher program offers up to $4,200 for families who qualify. To be eligible for the coming school year, household income must not exceed 133 percent of the threshold to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

A lottery was held last year, when about 5,500 families applied for the 2,400 available vouchers.

Lawmakers set aside $10 million for the 2014-15 school year. Senate leaders have proposed increasing the amount of funding available for the program.

"This decision will continue the damage being done to our public schools and students by allowing private vouchers to drain money from our already underfunded schools," Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a statement. "We believe the Constitution is clear: public funds for education should be used exclusively for public schools."

"Today is a very sad day in the history of our state,” Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Public Schools First NC, said in a statement. "We cannot fathom how this decision upholds the constitutional promise that all children receive a sound, basic education within the public school system."

But legislative backers of the voucher program celebrated Thursday.

"Two-hundred and twenty-four schools worked with parents to allow students to attend the school of their choice while awaiting today’s court decision. More families will now have realistic access to educational options for their children," Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said in a statement.

"The Supreme Court reaffirmed that education in North Carolina is about our children and their future,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. “This ruling makes clear that parents – not education bureaucrats or politicians – ought to be able to choose the educational pathway best suited to their children’s needs, and it empowers thousands of low-income families across the state to make that important choice.”

18 Comments

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  • Mario Saravia Jul 27, 2015
    user avatar

    PS: You can take your kid to any school of your like. As long as they participate in the program and you the parent are willing to come with & pay the difference, just visit the Current List of Nonpublic Schools on their website. It has nothing to do with "Religion."

  • Mario Saravia Jul 27, 2015
    user avatar

    I rarely post comments on social media or internet sites. They are too argumentative. We all agree (Judges, educators, parents, tax payers, etc.) the common denominator here is our CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. I strongly believe this program has tremendous value for ALL involved. TAXPAYERS: Consider the following verifiable fact found everywhere in the internet: “According to the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, in 2012-13 (latest data available) North Carolina spent $8,514 per student1. This figure includes actual local, state and federal expenditures and reflects current normal operating expenses only. It does not include capital expenses, federal school lunch programs, and debt service or transportation costs, which mean an additional 25% increase.” This means my tax dollars & yours are better spent under the Opportunity Scholarship program which provides families $4200. That represents at the very least a 50% savings to the State coffers. Common sense + Simple mat

  • Muddy Laces Jul 27, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    Most private schools work out arrangements with the parents to cover the rest of the tuition. IE Volunteer hours, or fund raising work. Parent involvement, how about that!

  • Charlie Watkins Jul 26, 2015
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    Why will it lead to segregation. Are not vouchers available to all? I though anyone could get a voucher.

    If certain groups cannot get a voucher then that is discrimination!

  • Charlie Watkins Jul 26, 2015
    user avatar

    People are mad about vouchers because some parents are taking an interest in their kids education.

    Those who are upset are afraid that their child will be left further behind but the parents are unwilling to do anything about it. They want all children to be average or below average.

  • Christian Poirier Jul 24, 2015
    user avatar

    a sound public education is necessary to the proper functioning of a civil society. privatizing education can only lead to a return to segregation as private and religious schools cherry pick students to suit themselves. being exposed to different people and ideas leads to a more open and inclusive society. the fault in our public schools has more to do with chronic underfunding than anything else. this cannot be solved by siphoning off dollars to private and religious schools.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 24, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    In most districts the Directors of Testing and Accountability have other (full-time) responsibilities and receive a small pay increase for taking on the additional Testing duties. In larg Districts, Testing and Accountability can be a full-time job in and of itself.

  • Joseph Shepard Jul 23, 2015
    user avatar

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    Its not a Republican issue.. This debate about vouchers began a long time ago--gasp, gasp, with Democrats. They recognized the failures of the public school systems and the absolute wasted money they kept pouring into it. The answer is not more money, but a more judicious expenditure of those funds.. Please explain to me what the heck a Director of Testing does? Or a Director of Accountability does??? Testing takes place two times a year--so what does the DIRECTOR of testing do for the rest of the time??

  • John Snow Jul 23, 2015
    user avatar

    How can the court say that vouchers don't violate the state constitution? Have they not read it? It is pretty clear.

    Here is an excerpt: "together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose(education), shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools."

    Exclusively for free public schools. Not private, not religious. It's right there in the constitution.

  • Thomas Morris Jul 23, 2015
    user avatar

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    What I really don't understand about the Republican mentality is that they want to reduce government "hand-outs" and expect people to be financially responsible for themselves....but they have no problem with giving a hand-out of public tax payer money to send kids to private schools. Does not make sense, unless you look at it from a viewpoint of what is best to privatize education.

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