Ruling halting school voucher payments appealed

Posted August 22, 2014

— The state Attorney General's Office and several parents on Friday asked that taxpayer-funded vouchers to low-income families who want to send their children to private or religious schools be paid until the legality of the program is settled.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled Thursday that the Opportunity Scholarship program is an unconstitutional shift of state money away from public schools, and he ordered an immediate stop to disbursing any money for the vouchers.

About 5,500 students applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, and the first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was about to be distributed to schools when Hobgood halted the transactions.

"The Superior Court’s action has thrown the educational future of these students into turmoil," reads a motion to the state Court of Appeals to lift Hobgood's injunction and allow the vouchers to be paid while the case is appealed.

The North Carolina State Educational Assistance Authority, which is overseeing the voucher program, said more than 1,800 students chosen by lottery have already accepted Opportunity Scholarships. Some of the private schools with voucher recipients have already started class.

"Absent an immediate stay by this Court, the parents, their children, and the private schools that have contracted to educate those children are left in limbo, uncertain as to whether the schools will be paid for providing services to the parents’ children," the motion reads.

Twenty students enrolled at Raleigh Christian Academy through the voucher program.

"They have looked at this as just an amazing opportunity. To see their excitement on the first day of school, that was just a great encouragement to us," said Principal Dwight Ausley who interviewed each family over the summer.

The vouchers would have covered about two-thirds of the tuition at Raleigh Christian, and the school planned to subsidize the rest of the cost.

Hobgood's decision to stop the voucher payments could cost the school more than $70,000, but Ausley said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.

"From the very beginning, we've tried to be cautious in our approach because it's not a done deal until the money's in the bank, so to speak," he said.

Although Raleigh Christian is reassuring all of its voucher families that their students will not be kicked out, Ausley said parents feel like they've had the rug pulled out from under them, noting they have invested hundreds of dollars of their own money in fees for applications, supplies and insurance.

"Here they are – they paid that. So, we just felt like there's nothing more that we could do than just say, 'Look, we're not going to worry. You don't worry. We're here for you. Come to school tomorrow,'" he said.

The North Carolina School Boards Association, one of the groups that challenged the legality of the Opportunity Scholarship program, said in a statement Friday that the uncertainty facing private schools and families over the vouchers was "foreseeable and avoidable."

Hobgood initially put the program on hold in February, but when parents appealed his injunction then, the state Supreme Court allowed the lottery to award the vouchers to go forward.

The Attorney General's Office and the parents argued in their motion that Hobgood's reasoning that state money can fund only public schools is wrong, stating that the voucher program "serves to supplement the general and uniform system of public schools by providing low-income families additional educational opportunities for their children, similar to the charter schools that this Court found to supplement the traditional public schools."

Hobgood ruled that the private schools can discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as North Carolina's public schools. He also accused state lawmakers of trying to get around the constitutional guarantee of providing a sound education to low-income students by shifting them to private schools that aren't bound by that requirement.


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  • skeeter II Aug 27, 2014

    If one judge rules that the voucher payments do not meet constitution education requirements, how can you expect another judge to say "it is OK to make the payments until the case is settled"? Wishful thinking!!!! Hope they do not "shop around" to find a judge that will allow the payments.

    It was settled when the first judge ruled! The other judges will probably want to hear all of the evidents or read the trail transcripts before making a ruling. This will take time and in the meantime, the parents are on the "hook" to pay the school. Seems that the ruling back in February should have been interpreted that there was a large risk that the vouchers would not be allowed, but the parents elected to go forward as if the issue was settled!

    Charter schools do not have to meet the same requirements as public schools. They only have to have a small percentage of their teachers certified -- can hired anyone to teacher their classes!

  • Paul Maxwell Aug 25, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    This news story is about tax dollars funding private schools. Your food stamp rant is totally beside the point. But since you brought it up--not many folks on food stamps will be able to afford any private school even with the voucher. Vouchers are just another backdoor attempt to funnel public monies into a few well-connected pockets.

  • Aug 25, 2014

    I simply don't recall seeing anywhere our Founding Fathers stating that Private Schools should be required and that government should help to provide for them though taxation. I DID see them mention that PUBLIC schools should be established and that PUBLIC schools should be supported through taxation of the citizenry. Wow. It's in the State Constitution. The LAW. My guess is that our legislators don't really care about the law. Thus far, they've pretty well proven that over and over again as demonstrated by all of the "laws" they passed which have been deemed unconstitutional by the 3rd part of our Constitutionally derived government, with, you know, its' checks and balances to prevent one branch (like the legislature or the executive, or both) from enacting laws which go against the constitution as determined by that 3rd, the (evil, activist, and all those other buzzwords used) Judiciary.

  • The_Analyst Aug 25, 2014

    charter schools underperform public schools nationwide. Voucher systems are just a backdoor method of funding religious education in violation of the First Amendment. Republicons pander to the religious schools because it alsoallows them to siphon off public education dollars, always in short supply, for elitist private schools. If you're dismayed at the state of public education, realize that what the nation spends is a tiny fraction of the 1.2 billion plus per year we spend on "Defense", spying on Americans, Homeland security, secret chemical, biological, nuclear and other programs and so on. You wnat more money for education, ask for a de-escalation of militaristic spending. Regardless of how you feel about the escessive funding of the MIC, please read about the R.A.P.A., a foolish piece of legislation pushed by Robert Corker, that intends to push an untenable set of conditions on Russia that make Global Thermonuclear War a near-certainty. Be informed, or be dead.

  • Doug Pawlak Aug 25, 2014
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    Of course it isn't which is why its a charade. If it was really about giving the poor " a choice", then it'd fund the entire cost. But it really isn't about that as its modeled on Florida's plan which soon got opened up to everybody.

  • hppyhourhero Aug 25, 2014

    swfsm: "No one is claiming the vouchers would cover full costs"...And the families who cannot afford to cover the rest of the cost...Well, too bad? How is this vouocher program helping them? It isn't....

  • 12345_here Aug 25, 2014

    This should be illegal . We should not be subsidizing kids that want to attend Raleigh Christian academy. if their congregation wants to foot the bill, so be it. However don't take my public tax dollars and give it to a private school that is indoctrinating kids about Noah and other items that can be learned on Sunday while my kid is attending public school.

  • littleriver69 Aug 25, 2014

    No tax dollars for vouchers! If you want your kid to go to a private school, write a check yourself.

  • swfsm Aug 25, 2014

    View quoted thread

    No one is claiming the vouchers would cover full costs. Parents would likely have to pay a portion. Googled and a site said average cost of private ES in Wake is $5900. Some are much more, so some are less. There certainly are some in the $5000 and below range. Try Googling if you want to know costs. It isn't going to cover the cost of a lower income student going to Cary Academy, but will put other schools that suit their academic needs within reach. As parents still have to cover a portion of the cost, they likely are not going to send their kid private instead of public on a whim without some good reason.

  • Forthe Newssite Aug 25, 2014
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    They should NOT be paid until it is all sorted out and I hope the end result is that they WILL NEVER be paid out of taxpayer monies.... Want your kids to go to private school YOU pay for it. It's bad enough that I, with no kids ever in school, have to pay for schools-yea I get it-but for private....no thanks.