The Charlotte Observer:
In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt…,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution….”
Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s opinion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was blunt.
“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he said Thursday in ordering an immediate halt to the voucher plan.
That was not a political statement. Hobgood, a veteran judge holding court in Wake County, cited several provisions of the state constitution violated by the voucher program….
Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office will appeal to higher courts, but Hobgood’s interpretation of the state constitution seems sound.
It was the legislature that went off track in enacting a program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools and contradicts good judgment. At a time when more accountability is demanded of public schools and educators, this program asks almost nothing of participating private schools. It just sends them money.
Bad idea. And, according to the judge, it violates the state constitution.
Article IX of North Carolina’s constitution couldn’t be much clearer: Money allotted for public education, it reads, “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood of Louisburg agreed. On Thursday, he ruled North Carolina’s private-school voucher program unconstitutional.
Private schools serve some children well, and parents have a right to send their children there if they wish – at their expense. But Hobgood ruled that the state is not at liberty to send taxpayer dollars to schools that are not accountable to the public.
This law, based in little more than conservative ideology and a clear dislike of public education, was foolish from the start. Republicans disguised it, in effect, by offering eligibility only to lower-income families. Of course, the $4,200 maximum that would go to those families wouldn’t pay for the most elite private schools, where tuition can run $20,000….
Hobgood saw through the deception. “It appears to this court,” he said, “that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into nonpublic schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools as mandated by the Leandro decision.
“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”