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DinosaurNorth Carolina’s Lt. Governor Dan Forest is no longer on the board of the group he helped found a few years back known as Faith Driven Consumer, but the group remains enmeshed in controversial issues with important political implications.

The group’s most recent crusade is to make sure that that the bosses at Paramount Studios, which is producing a multimillion dollar movie based on the Biblical figure Noah and the mythological story in which he saves all the creatures of the world from a flood, doesn’t allow the film to include any deviation from the what the group considers to be the literal truth. As Fox News reports, the group, which claims to speak for 46 million Christian consumers, released survey results showing that that “98 percent of faith-driven consumers are ‘unsatisfied with (the) Bible-themed movie which strays from Biblical message.’ The report suggested that ‘Noah’ could thus face ‘commercial challenges.’”

Such a scenario is in keeping with the past efforts of the Faith Driven Consumer to inject a conservative Christian worldview into modern American commerce. As reported here previously, the group has gone so far in past years as to dispense low marks to retailers (like the department store chain Sears) that feature lingerie models in their catalogs.

In the “Noah” example, the Faith Driven Consumer group has made it plain to Paramount that it doesn’t care for the notion that the film might attempt to superimpose modern, non-literal interpretations on the flood story. This is from an appeal on the group’s website: Read More

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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.

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School-vouchersIf you haven’t already done so, check out today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File in which Chris highlights the most recent cynical efforts of anti-government crusaders to cloak their efforts to dismantle public education behind a protective phalanx of poor kids and their families. As Chris notes in discussing yesterday’s efforts by voucher supporters to resist a broad-based lawsuit against the state’s new “Opportunity Scholarships” program:

“It’s an understandable strategic decision voucher supporters are making, claiming that their only concern is improving the education of poor kids. They’d rather not talk about their anti-government ideology that’s behind their crusade to dismantle public education, one of the last government institutions that enjoys widespread support. Read More

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In a packed courtroom this morning, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled that challenges to the state’s school voucher program, dubbed the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,”  could move forward toward trial.

The program, which was adopted as part of the budget bill signed into law by the governor in July, allows income-eligible families to apply for up to $4200 in tuition funds for use at private schools.

A group of 25 educators and state taxpayers fired the opening salvo in December when they filed suit, contending that the use of taxpayer money for private schools violated provisions of the state constitution requiring that public dollars be used exclusively for a system of free public schools. Four individuals and the North Carolina School Boards Association filed a second suit days later making similar allegations. Since then more than 70 county boards of education have signed on to that lawsuit. 

Today, attorneys for the state as well as for the nonprofit Institute for Justice — a Washington, D.C. – based school choice organization which Hobgood allowed to join the lawsuits today on behalf of applicants to the program  —  tried to convince the court that the complaints lacked merit and should be dismissed.

Attorney Lauren Clemmons, arguing for the state, said that the General Assembly met its obligation to spend public funds for public purposes in enacting the program because the public purpose was “education” in the broadest sense of the word, not just public education.

The program provides scholarship funds to parents for the education of their children in private schools, she told Judge Hobgood.

Clemmons added that voucher money didn’t necessarily come from funds specifically earmarked for public education.  She led the court through the circuitous route through which voucher funds traveled — from the total education budget through the UNC system  to parents and ultimately private schools — an exercise that left many scratching their heads and wondering whether,  by undertaking so many budgetary maneuvers, the General Assembly wasn’t really just trying to hide the ball.

“A budgetary shell game does not neuter the constitution,” attorney Burton Craige said when the plaintiffs’ counsel got their turn to address the court.

And the state constitution could not be more clear, he added, in stating that state revenue for the purposes of public education be used “exclusively”  for  public schools.

“We’re asking the court to declare that “exclusively” means “exclusively,” Craige told Hobgood.

After hearing more than two hours of argument, Hobgood ruled from the bench that the challengers had stated their claims sufficiently enough to allow them to move forward and denied the state’s request to dismiss the complaints.

The next step in the proceedings comes quickly, as the court will hear argument on Friday regarding requests by those challenging the vouchers to delay implementation of the program until the court rules on its constitutionality.

Should the court deny those requests, the state can begin vetting more than 4,000 applicants for income eligibility and then conduct a lottery to determine who will receive funds for the coming school year — estimated to be close to 2400 students.

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In a matter of days, the number of local school boards that has signed on to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the new school voucher legislation has jumped from 16 to 40.

Filed by the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA), the lawsuit calls into question the constitutionality of providing families with $4,200 annual taxpayer-funded scholarships to use at private schools.

The 40 school boards (out of a total of 115 in the state) that have voted to challenge school vouchers are as follows:

Alamance County
Asheboro City
Catawba County
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City
Chatham County
Cleveland County
Columbus County
Craven County
Currituck County
Davidson County
Durham County
Edenton-Chowan
Gates County
Graham County
Halifax County
Harnett County
Hyde County
Lee County
Lenoir County
Lexington City
Macon County
Martin County
Mount Airy City
Newton-Conover
Onslow County
Orange County
Pamlico County
Person County
Pitt County
Polk County
Rockingham County
Rutherford County
Scotland County
Stanly County
Surry County
Vance County
Warren County
Washington County
Whiteville City
Yancey County