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blog-voucherAs Policy Watch just reported, today the state Supreme Court decided to bypass the Court of Appeals and take up for its own review the fight over whether or not North Carolina’s new school voucher program should continue.

In the case Hart v. North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional for several reasons–chiefly that the program uses public funds for private use and that it does not serve a public purpose.

The last stop for the case was with the Court of Appeals, which ruled in late September that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the Court worked toward a final decision on the program.

That ruling allowed the state to disburse more than $1 million to private schools already — $90,300 of which were sent to financially troubled Greensboro Islamic Academy, the largest recipient of voucher funds to date.

Stay tuned for more developments.

 

News

School-vouchersReligious private schools account for 90 percent of those receiving the state’s new taxpayer-funded school vouchers—a disproportionately high amount given that only 66.4 percent of the state’s 715 private schools are religious institutions.

According to data released by the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority, 98 out of the 109 private schools that have received vouchers (formally known as Opportunity Scholarships) from the state so far are religious institutions. Ninety-four of those schools identify as Christian, and four other schools identify as Islamic. To date, the state has disbursed just over $1 million to the religious schools.

The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat. Read More

News

The first million dollars in taxpayer-funded school vouchers have been sent to private and religious schools across North Carolina, the AP reports.

From the News & Observer:

The first million dollars have been sent to private and religious schools across North Carolina while an appeals court considers a judge’s ruling that a new scholarship program for low-income public school children is unconstitutional.

About $1.1 million was distributed last Friday to 109 private schools that accepted students under the Opportunity Scholarships program, State Educational Assistance Authority grants director Elizabeth McDuffie said Monday. That distribution was to cover part of the tuition for 568 students, according to the state agency administering the program.

The schools were primarily Christian, Baptist, Catholic or Islamic. The Greensboro Islamic Academy received the most money, $90,300 for 43 enrolled students. Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh received $54,600 for 26 students.

Earlier this month, The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled 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. But the program cannot continue to award vouchers while the case is still tied up in the courts.

An August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law, enacted in 2013, 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.”

Hobgood’s ruling is under appeal by the state’s attorney as well as defendant-intervenors for parents and Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

Attorney Robert Orr, who represents the N.C. School Boards Association, told the AP, “everybody’s on notice that the court has already ruled at the trial level it’s unconstitutional. In the long run, if the trial court’s decision is affirmed, then we would look to the state to recover the public’s money. You have to emphasize that it is the public’s money that we’re talking about.”

Read the full story by AP reporter Emery Dalesio here.

Commentary

School-vouchersThis morning’s editorial in the Fayetteville Observer takes a rather charitable view toward parents who signed their children up for North Carolina’s new school voucher plan and then found themselves without the subsidy once Judge Robert Hobgood rightfully struck down the program as blatantly unconstitutional. The paper is okay with last week’s Court of Appeals ruling that the state should go ahead and disburse the money to the private schools in which the parents enrolled their kids.

Reasonable minds can differ on this generous take; after all, it’s the private schools (which knew the risks) that are really out the money. But the paper is right that, assuming this is a one-time deal, the damage will be minimal. The remainder of editorial is largely spot on, however, with its take on the voucher program more generally and going forward:

In his earlier ruling against the program, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said it not only gave tax dollars to non-public schools, but established no standards for the schools to which the money would go.

Friday’s decision wisely allows the children already enrolled to continue through this school year. There’s no point in penalizing families who believed they were part of a legitimate state program.

But lawmakers should stop hoping for a court to read the constitution crossed-eyed and discern something that isn’t there. The General Assembly should prepare for the rejection of Opportunity Scholarships.

Hobgood’s ruling also spelled out the way legislators can fix this: “The expenditure of public funds raised by tax action to finance the operation of privately operated, managed and controlled schools … would require a constitutional amendment approved by the vote of the citizens of North Carolina.”

To preserve Opportunity Scholarships, stop pretending and begin the amendment process. And also include standards to hold participating private schools accountable.

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

News

School-vouchersThe 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. Read More