The push to get folks to sign up for North Carolina’s controversial school voucher program — now ruled constitutional by the state’s highest court — is back on with new mailers and a video encouraging parents to get a private school education for their child at the taxpayer’s expense as lawmakers consider expanding the program nearly two-fold for the upcoming year.
“NC Supreme Court rules YES! for OPPORTUNITY!” headlines a mailer sent out by school voucher proponent Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC), an organization dedicated to pushing school privatization efforts and bankrolled largely by the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart).
Directing parents to a website with their own name in the URL, families can use the mailers to look up whether or not they are eligible to receive $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to use for private school tuition. The website includes a video of former NBA All Star and Tar Heel basketball player Antawn Jamison endorsing the program.
In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled last month to uphold the Opportunity Scholarship program, in spite of the fact that private schools have virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.
The move reversed a 2014 ruling finding the program to be unconstitutional. “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,” Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood wrote at the time.
Those private schools, the majority of which are religious but can also include home schools that have just one student, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.
Now, parents are free to use state funds to send their children to private schools — and the school voucher program is likely to expand.
State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million in taxpayer dollars to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships beginning in 2014. The House’s 2015-17 budget proposal passed earlier this summer proposes expanding the school voucher program from $10 million to $17.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Senate’s proposal does the same as the House, but with recurring funds instead and for both years of the biennium.
With House and Senate lawmakers still hammering away behind closed doors at a 2015-17 final budget, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the program could be expanded even further — stay tuned.