Supreme Court move could reopen NC school voucher lottery

Posted May 14, 2014

School voucher generic, Opportunity Scholarship

— The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold a judge's ruling that has prevented state officials from holding a lottery to award taxpayer-funded vouchers to low-income families that want to send their children to private or religious schools.

The North Carolina Educational Assistance Authority is conferring with its attorneys, but it likely will move forward with the lottery in the face of two lawsuits challenging the program, executive director Steve Brooks said.

About 5,500 students have already applied for the so-called Opportunity Scholarships, annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, and Brooks said those applications still need to be screened to determine how many meet eligibility requirements. The agency also needs to sign up schools willing to accept the vouchers, he said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association filed separate suits against the voucher law, which was passed last year by the General Assembly. Dozens of local school boards also challenged the legality of the program.

The groups 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.

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

About 2,400 vouchers were to be awarded for the 2014-15 school year, but Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued an injunction in February to halt the lottery, agreeing with voucher opponents that state education funds must be spent on public schools.

Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to appeal Hobgood's ruling, but an outside group representing parents who applied for the vouchers requested the stay.

"We commend the court for allowing the Opportunity Scholarship Program to proceed and listening to the true voices of this debate, the parent-plaintiffs who chose to stand up for their child’s fundamental right to a ‘sound, basic education’ and refused to be defined by their income level or ZIP code," Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said in a statement. "These parents applied for this program, qualified for this program and now have the opportunity for their child to attend the participating private school of their choice this fall."

Edwin Speas, an attorney representing the N.C. School Boards Association and local school boards in the case, said his client is more interested in a final determination from the court on whether the program should go forward or end altogether.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis echoed that sentiment, saying they hope to win a permanent injunction against the vouchers.

"Private schools have no accountability to taxpayers," Ellis said in a statement. "They are not required to be accredited, to hire certified teachers, to have a curriculum or to perform criminal background checks on teachers or staff. They can use discriminatory policies to choose their students. We think this is wrong. That’s why we’re fighting this.”

Legislative leaders said last month that they planned to appeal Hobgood's decision, saying the judge's ruling could threaten funding to nonprofits that serve students across North Carolina, from Smart Start pre-kindergarten programs to university scholarship funds to programs for disabled and deaf children.


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  • Rilif May 15, 2014

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    Can you point out where in the constitution is "clear and unambiguous" in this case? I'll say it again. This program saves the taxpayers money. See my previous comment. I love how the naysayers are crafting their argument again corporate and GOP interest. But killing this program hurts who? Low income minority kids seeking a better education mainly; this is for free lunch eligible kids.

  • May 15, 2014

    Simple issue. It's unconstitutional. Either we live by ALL the constitution or we live by none of it. You don't get to pick and choose. Bending and twisting your logic to try and make it "sound" legal isn't the same as it BEING legal. The Constitution in this case is very clear and unambiguous. No matter how hard some try, there isn't any way to interpret it other than the way it reads. It won't stop greedy corporations from TRYING though. THey've managed to convince many of our less-than-stellar intellects that the private sector is better at everything, even though history and evidence constantly proves otherwise.

  • Grand Union May 15, 2014

    Hopefully the Feds will shut this down again.

    Its just taxpayers paying for church schools and for profit schools (owned by GOP backers) via the back door.

  • 12345_here May 15, 2014

    If I can tell the private schools that get my money what they can teach, then they can have their vouchers. But then they would be public schools.

  • MB4579 May 15, 2014

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    Agreed. As someone who went to a private religious school for 7 years, I would never EVER want my tax dollars used to send my child (or any child) to the same sort of school that I attended. When I went to college, I had to take many classes as a freshmen that my peers considered "remedial" because they had already taken them as Advanced Placement classes in public high school. There were also no school-supported extracurricular activities for students unless they were athletes. Thank God I was able to go to a university in and get a degree from the UNC system instead of some unaccredited "private college" they were pressuring me to attend, like BJU or Pensacola.

    The quality of the education at my private school wasn't any better than what my public school friends were receiving. I appreciate that my parents had their heart in the right place, but the amount of money they spent on tuition there could have paid for my entire college education.

  • Comment_NC May 15, 2014

    WOW they will use my tax dollars! I don't even have kids going to a public school. I am a single grandmother who is raising her grandson with no help. I have made a choice, to use my money on a private school for my grandson instead of a new car, or new cloths and so on. It is MY priority to give him everything I can to make him a great man…not new 100 sneakers, or a great big SUV. Now money/taxes are coming from my paycheck to fund other children! Do I have tax deductions for sending my child to a private school....NO. I am now going to pay for many children who will probably only attend 1 year. Look further than your nose... after the 1st year nutrition is funded... what about the second year... are the parents going to pay for them to continue to go to that school ...no they will either get another grant or need to move the child back to public... in my eyes that is wasted my money. Put that money back into the public school systems… GIVE the teachers the money!!

  • kdogwnc May 15, 2014

    The article cites voucher supporters who maintain the vouchers save the state money "because of the high per-pupil cost in public schools." What exactly is the per-pupil cost of private schools in the state, and how does that compare to the per-pupil cost of public schools?

  • Paul Maxwell May 15, 2014
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    What we 'need' is to stop trying to fund private enterprises with tax dollars. If a family can afford to send a child to a private school then fine, let them do it. Put the voucher monies back into public education, where it belongs. The proliferation of private schools, religion-based 'education' and, worst of all, 'home schooling' has done much to undermine public education and we are poorer for it.

  • Terry Watts May 15, 2014
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    Competition divides those into "haves" and "have nots". In a system where we seek to educate all children, no matter their "have nots", a competitive system will eventually shut out those that cannot afford education or do not have adequate education made available locally...

  • Terry Watts May 15, 2014
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    We could argue about the amount of the tax benefits but that wouldn't make a difference. I generally agree with your idea, in that it might be proper for the State to give a Tax Deduction for Private School tuition to those families that meet a certain criteria (and attend private school). But I'm not a fan of giving away public tax dollars to an institution that does not have public oversight... YMMV...