The battle over school vouchers in North Carolina is now before the state Supreme Court, thanks to an emergency motion filed late Monday by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow the taxpayer-funded vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided.
Plaintiffs challenging the school voucher program — parents, educators, community members and school boards represented by the N.C. Justice Center, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the N.C. School Boards Association – filed a response Tuesday morning to the motion now before the state’s highest court.
“[The defendants] implore the Court to put millions of taxpayer dollars at risk by turning on the spigot of public funds almost a month before the SEAA’s long-planned disbursement schedule, nullifying a decision by a senior trial judge entered after months of discovery and consideration of hundreds of pages of evidence and briefs,” said the plaintiffs’ response.
Tillis and Berger’s attorneys contend that because students are already in private schools and planning to use the school vouchers, those funds should be distributed—even though the program has been ruled unconstitutional and is under appeal.
But the Court of Appeals denied the defendants’ motion for an emergency stay earlier Monday, prompting the motion that is now before the Supreme Court.
There was one missing party in Monday’s Supreme Court filing, however – the state’s attorney general, which is the primary defendant in the case.
Earlier this year, Judge Hobgood halted the school voucher program, pending a final ruling. But then, too, the state’s attorney general did not seek a stay of his decision, citing the potential harm in disbursing taxpayer funds to private schools prior to the possibility of an unconstitutional ruling that would make the program illegal.
The defendant-intervenors in the case, on behalf of parents wishing to take advantage of the school vouchers, went ahead without the attorney general’s office at that time as well, and made a motion to the state Supreme Court to allow the program to continue. That request was granted back in May.
Attorneys for those challenging school vouchers, which the state program offers to approximately 2,400 students with $4,200 annually to send their children to private schools, have argued that the program funnels taxpayer dollars to unregulated and unaccountable private schools, 70 percent of which are religious institutions.
In his ruling last week, Hobgood recognized the state’s obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the Supreme Court in its Leandro decision.
“The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to low income parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk,” Judge Hobgood said.
Stay tuned for further developments.