Vouchers only latest NC legislation to be challenged

Posted August 27, 2014

— Pick a controversial law passed by the General Assembly, and then pick a court.

A voucher program that uses taxpayer money to help some low-income families pay tuition so their children can attend private or religious schools is the latest legislation to face a legal challenge.

Since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, redrawn legislative and congressional district voting maps, a law requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls, a law requiring a doctor to narrate an ultrasound before providing an abortion, a law creating a "Choose Life" license plate and a budget provision eliminating the tenure rights of veteran teachers all have led to lawsuits against the state.

Michael Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law and director of the Center for Law and Government at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said he doesn't find the raft of lawsuits unusual.

"When you have a legislature that was fairly aggressive like this one was to try and change a lot of areas of life in North Carolina, then you can expect some push-back," Gerhardt said.

That push-back put some laws in limbo. Parents who had enrolled their children in private schools after being awarded vouchers earlier this summer, for example, say they don't know what to do after a Superior Court judge last week declared the program unconstitutional.

"I was hurt. I was angry," Joy Faust said of hearing that the Opportunity Scholarship program had been halted after she had enrolled her two children in Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh.

"I feel like, in a sense, there is one voice that overshadows our ways, the voice of many," Faust said.

Although no federal judge has yet ruled on North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage, most observers see it as poised to fall following a recent 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning a similar ban in Virginia.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of North Carolina Values Coalition, finds such court rulings, as well as a decision blocking the ultrasound requirement, upsetting.

"We think it's outrageous that federal judges are playing God," Fitzgerald said.

Gerhardt noted, however, that such checks and balances are a key part of the way government operates in the U.S.

"Legislatures don't get to have the last word on the meaning of the state constitution or the meaning of the federal constitution," he said. "That's never been the American way, and that's not how it's done here."

He also pointed out that federal laws, such as the Affordable Care Act, have been subject to countless legal challenges through the years. He predicted that many of the North Carolina lawsuits won't be decided for months, if not years.

State lawmakers included a provision in the budget that Gov. Pat McCrory signed earlier this month that would have special three-judge panels hear future challenges to state laws instead of having a single judge hear each lawsuit.


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  • Kyle Clarkson Sep 2, 2014
    user avatar

    I didn't think it was possible to be more corrupt than Easley, but McCrory has set a new standard. McCrory's first mistake was giving his staff generous raises, while many hard working state employees have seen an average of less than 1% raise over the past 6 years.

  • TooMuchGovt Sep 1, 2014

    Liberal idea of fairness: it is ok to force me, via my tax dollars, to help them send their kids to liberal government schools; but it is not ok to use my tax dollars to send my kids to a non-government school. Well, a pox on all liberals. I lived in a very small house, drove a beat-up car for several years, and sent my kids to schools that were more interested in academics than in social engineering. All did very well in college and have outstanding careers. Please never ask me to support our local government schools. I know the government had nothing for my family.

  • archmaker Aug 29, 2014

    60% of the legislators were brand new with no experience in 2010.
    that's what you get - bills trying to establish an official religion in north Carolina.

  • miseem Aug 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    But as others have mentioned, this is just the opening round. In the next few years, expect the income limits to be raised, and eventually eliminated in the interest of "fairness" to the wealthy. And for right now, I'd like to see some information about the lower income students prior public school. I'll bet that many of the schools they are moving from are not underperforming schools. Just that their parents want them in a religious school. At least the No Child Left Behind required the school to be underperforming, even though the criteria for that would have made just about every public school in the US underpreforming after 10-12 years.

  • Ears to the Ground Aug 28, 2014

    Sub chapter X Article 39 Part 2A 115C-562.1 (AKA the private school voucher law) states eligibility requirement is income no more than 133% of requirement for federal free or reduced lunch which is 185% of the federal poverty level. For a family of 4 that amounts to $58,683. The median household income for 2013 in NC = $46,450.

    Sub chapter X Article 39 Part 2A 115C-562.1

    Free or reduced lunch guidelines:

    Median NC Household Income:

  • Justa Smith Aug 28, 2014
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    This "right" is not being violated. You can always send your child to a private religious institution should you so choose. What is being "violated" is your "right" to have me or anyone else pay for that. I do not understand how a political party which is adamant about their "right" not to pay for food, housing , and medical care for people of low income does not find it contradictory to say that others should pay for someone else's decision to seek private education when free education is provided.

  • teleman60 Aug 28, 2014

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    You misunderstood. The law as written was for the poor. BUT - Once enacted, wealthy folks could sue for being discriminated against and not being included (all treated EQUAL UNDER THE LAW)

    Thus Tillis knowingly created a situation where NC wealthy folks could build their religious neighborhood schools and DO IT ALL WITH TAX DOLLARS.

    Pretty slick idea, huh? Make it look like it's for the poor when it's just another way to get those neighborhood schools they always wanted for free.

  • Bart Iannetta Aug 28, 2014
    user avatar

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    Love this. The GOP wants to save everyone before they are born . . . once they are born they can go f themselves because the GOP doesn't like to help any fellow Americans . . . just themselves!

  • Christopher Rose Aug 28, 2014
    user avatar

    "We think it's outrageous that federal judges are playing God," Fitzgerald said

    Well maybe the rest of us don't like the fact you keep trying to legislate your GOD onto us!

    As to Joy Faust, you can always enroll your child in the free public school. It is not my job as a taxpayer to help pay for the indoctrination of your child into whatever superstitions you believe in. That is for you to do on your own time and dime.

  • Bart Iannetta Aug 28, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    And you can find anything to be unconstitutional . . . if it was proposed by an NC Republican! Not the fault of the judges that the GOP is not tolerant of anyone - what a bunch of religious pretenders! Wonder when you will wake up from your hibernation?