Uncategorized

Voucher lawsuits move forward

In a packed courtroom this morning, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled that challenges to the state’s school voucher program, dubbed the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,”  could move forward toward trial.

The program, which was adopted as part of the budget bill signed into law by the governor in July, allows income-eligible families to apply for up to $4200 in tuition funds for use at private schools.

A group of 25 educators and state taxpayers fired the opening salvo in December when they filed suit, contending that the use of taxpayer money for private schools violated provisions of the state constitution requiring that public dollars be used exclusively for a system of free public schools. Four individuals and the North Carolina School Boards Association filed a second suit days later making similar allegations. Since then more than 70 county boards of education have signed on to that lawsuit. 

Today, attorneys for the state as well as for the nonprofit Institute for Justice — a Washington, D.C. – based school choice organization which Hobgood allowed to join the lawsuits today on behalf of applicants to the program  —  tried to convince the court that the complaints lacked merit and should be dismissed.

Attorney Lauren Clemmons, arguing for the state, said that the General Assembly met its obligation to spend public funds for public purposes in enacting the program because the public purpose was “education” in the broadest sense of the word, not just public education.

The program provides scholarship funds to parents for the education of their children in private schools, she told Judge Hobgood.

Clemmons added that voucher money didn’t necessarily come from funds specifically earmarked for public education.  She led the court through the circuitous route through which voucher funds traveled — from the total education budget through the UNC system  to parents and ultimately private schools — an exercise that left many scratching their heads and wondering whether,  by undertaking so many budgetary maneuvers, the General Assembly wasn’t really just trying to hide the ball.

“A budgetary shell game does not neuter the constitution,” attorney Burton Craige said when the plaintiffs’ counsel got their turn to address the court.

And the state constitution could not be more clear, he added, in stating that state revenue for the purposes of public education be used “exclusively”  for  public schools.

“We’re asking the court to declare that “exclusively” means “exclusively,” Craige told Hobgood.

After hearing more than two hours of argument, Hobgood ruled from the bench that the challengers had stated their claims sufficiently enough to allow them to move forward and denied the state’s request to dismiss the complaints.

The next step in the proceedings comes quickly, as the court will hear argument on Friday regarding requests by those challenging the vouchers to delay implementation of the program until the court rules on its constitutionality.

Should the court deny those requests, the state can begin vetting more than 4,000 applicants for income eligibility and then conduct a lottery to determine who will receive funds for the coming school year — estimated to be close to 2400 students.

Check Also

State Supreme Court rules retroactive application of teacher tenure repeal is unconstitutional

The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

North Carolina lawmakers’ latest attempt to insert politics into the judiciary was thwarted Tuesday [...]

A N.C. General Assembly budget mandate to fire certain North Carolina public education officials wou [...]

More than a month after a deadline to correct faulty campaign finance reports, N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise [...]

Even before he dropped the gavel on the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Sen. Jerry Tillman, a noto [...]

State budget bill is the latest and best example It’s long been a matter of public record that North [...]

By now the strategy is familiar – the strategy used by the N.C. General Assembly’s Republican chiefs [...]

The post The devil and the details appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

18---percentage of people in North Carolina who receive health care coverage from Medicaid or the Ch [...]

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more
 


 
NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more
 


 
Trump + North Carolina
In dozens of vitally important areas, policy decisions of the Trump administration are dramatically affecting and altering the lives of North Carolinians. This growing collection of stories summarizes and critiques many of the most important decisions and their impacts.
Read more