The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled today that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the fate of the program is decided.
Students enrolled at private schools this fall expecting to have the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually, in hand – but an August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law to be unconstitutional, halting a program that, as Judge Hobgood said, “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.”
As a result, voucher recipients either returned to public schools or paid the full cost of attendance at private schools. Some private schools also indicated they would temporarily subsidize voucher students with the hope that the final court ruling would turn out in their favor.
While the Court of Appeals’ ruling obligates the state to disburse taxpayer funds to the private schools of those students who were awarded vouchers no later than August 21, 2014, it also blocks the state from awarding any additional vouchers until the final merits of the case are decided.
State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the school vouchers, or “Opportunity Scholarships,” beginning this fall. The vouchers funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.
The voucher program was first put on hold last February, when Judge Hobgood issued a preliminary injunction in lawsuits brought by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the N.C. School Boards Association and the North Carolina Justice Center, who challenged the constitutionality of the program.
But in May, the state Supreme Court overturned Judge Hobgood’s injunction, allowing the school voucher program to move forward. The state then awarded nearly 2,000 vouchers to students who wished to attend private schools.
Hobgood’s final ruling handed down in August, which is under appeal by the state’s attorney as well as defendant-intervenors for parents as well as Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger, included some harsh words for the state’s lawmakers.
“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,” Hobgood said.