Members of the Pitt County school board voted 9-1 Monday night to join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new school voucher program—the sixth local school board to do so since the complaint was filed in mid-December. The school board also passed a resolution indicating their district would not participate in the new teacher contract system.
The North Carolina School Boards Association filed a complaint against the state on December 16, calling into question the General Assembly’s decision to provide $4,200 annual taxpayer-funded school vouchers for student attendance at private schools, alleging that the legislation violates the state constitution.
“There are serious legal and constitutional issues that surround this [voucher] program,” said attorney and former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who is working on behalf of the NC School Boards Association in the voucher litigation. “The declaratory judgment action says we have a responsibility under the constitution to provide a sound basic education to every child in the state and we need the court to answer this question.”
Rep. Brian Brown (R-Pitt), a primary sponsor of the voucher legislation that the General Assembly passed last summer, told WNCT previously that he believes vouchers will strengthen public education.
Co-chair of the school board, Marc Whichard, disagreed, saying it would lead to unintended segregation and hurt local public schools.
Chairman of the board, Worth Forbes, was the only dissenter in last night’s vote to join the lawsuit, telling colleagues that competition would be good for public schools and that he didn’t want to see students leave the county for better options.
Durham, Surry, Mt. Airy, Catawba, and Rutherford county school boards have all signed on to be plaintiffs in the voucher lawsuit since it was filed last month. Pitt County is the sixth local school board to do so, and more school boards are expected to follow.
On December 19, Rep. Skip Stam, a school voucher proponent, contacted every local school board urging them not to join the voucher litigation.
Among his supporting materials explaining why school vouchers are not unconstitutional and are good for North Carolina’s children, Stam also responded to the recent news that a private school eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers prohibits gay students and students from gay families from enrolling by comparing that discriminatory practice with one that happens in higher education.
“For the last 38 years the state has been providing legislative tuition grants and need-based scholarships to 35 private 4-year colleges,” said Stam. “Three of these schools have always blatantly discriminated against men. Meredith College, Bennett College and Salem College do not admit men at all.”
One week before the school boards association filed their complaint, the North Carolina Association of Educators along with the North Carolina Justice Center filed a similar lawsuit seeking to block the school voucher legislation.
Pitt County school board members also passed a resolution last night asking the General Assembly to allow them to use the funds designated for teacher contracts for developing alternative pay scenarios.
Members also urged lawmakers to repeal the teacher contract system altogether, which would reward only the top 25 percent of teachers with annual $500 bonuses over four years, and instead develop a more effective long-term compensation system for teachers statewide.
Mt. Airy and New Hanover schools have passed similar resolutions rejecting the teacher contract system.
Note: this post was updated to reflect the fact that the co-chair and chairman of the board switched positions last fall. The chairman of the school board, not the co-chair, was the only person to vote against the resolution to join the voucher lawsuit.