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School-vouchersThe spigot of taxpayer-funds flowing to private schools under the state’s recently-enacted school voucher program remains closed as the Court of Appeals yesterday denied a second request by parents and other voucher proponents for emergency relief.

Those parents and proponents — including Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger — have been trying to have voucher funds released while they appeal a ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, finding the program unconstitutional.

They had unsuccessfully sought that relief from the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court even before Hobgood had reduced his ruling to a final written order.

With the final order — issued on August 28 — in hand, the voucher proponents again asked the Court of Appeals to block Hobgood’s order and let money flow while the court reviewed the merits of his decision.

And yesterday, for the second time, the Court of Appeals denied that request for an immediate stay.

The parties will now await a ruling by the Court of Appeals on the voucher proponents’ petition for a review on the merits of the Hobgood order.

Response briefs by the  parties challenging the voucher program are due in court next week.

 

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Saying that challengers to North Carolina’s recently-enacted school voucher program had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood today stopped the program from moving ahead, pending a final resolution of two lawsuits currently before him.

State officials had already moved forward with the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the face of  those lawsuits.  At least some of the $400,000 budgeted for administration of the program had already been spent, and more than 4,000 applications for vouchers received.

Attorneys for parties challenging the voucher program argued that the state constitution required funds for purposes of public education be used “exclusively” for free public schools.

But the state responded that only funds specifically earmarked for public education must be spent “exclusively” for free public schools. Here, state attorneys said, the General Assembly lawfully appropriated $10 million from the General Fund – not funds set aside for public education – for the Opportunity Scholarship program.  It was a new appropriation for a new program, they argued, placed within the budget for the state’s university system.

Attorneys for those challenging the program also argued that taxpayers would be harmed if the program was allowed to proceed while the cloud of unconstitutionality hung over its head. Once taxpayer funds were spent they could not be recovered, and the state might then be bound to recipients for funds coming from a program likely to be declared unconstitutional.

“The state would like to turn the tax spigot on until millions and millions are spent,” former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr told Hobgood.

Read more about the case here.

And read more about the voucher program in Lindsay Wagner’s excellent three-part series here, here and here.