Voucher program still in play
School vouchers are back on the table for the 2014-15 school year following a ruling in the North Carolina Supreme Court last week. In March, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued a preliminary injunction against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, preventing the voucher program from going into effect until the court could hear the case and issue a final ruling.
The Supreme Court ruling lifted that injunction, meaning that the state can proceed in offering the vouchers to students for the next school year. The order did not include a reason for the decision.
“Today’s historic decision vindicates the over 4,500 parents who applied for their child to receive an Opportunity Scholarship and puts parents back in the driver’s seat of their child’s education,” Darrell Allison, president of pro-voucher group Parents for Educational Freedom, said in a press release.
The Opportunity Scholarship Program came from a law the N.C. General Assembly passed last year, allocating $10 million to help low-income public school students pay private school tuition. To qualify for the scholarships, which would be worth a maximum of $4,200, students must be North Carolina public school students and live in a home that qualifies for free or reduced lunch.
Proponents of the legislation say it simply gives families the financial power to make the best choice about their child’s education, while its detractors say that the law is unconstitutional.
Specifically, the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association say the law illegally provides public funds to private institutions and that the academic oversight required of eligible private schools is not stringent enough to ensure that those students receive a quality education. The NCSBA suit also contends that the law’s implementation could lead to discrimination if private schools accepting voucher students screen applicants based on attributes such as religious beliefs.
With the injunction lifted, the plaintiffs are hoping to have it resolved before money is actually paid out to the private schools, which would likely happen in September.
“This case also is ruling that the law as written was unconstitutional. It really doesn’t require a lot of evidence, so this is doable,” said Ann McColl, general counsel for NCAE. “There is a little bit of evidence around the fact that private schools are not held accountable to taxpayers, but it’s still a relatively brief trial.”
In the legislature
Change could also come through the legislative route. Rick Glazier, D-Fayetteville, introduced House Bill 1075, which would repeal the Opportunity Scholarship Program. If enacted, the $10 million appropriated for the scholarships would go back into per-pupil funding. That allotment had been reduced in anticipation of savings when recipients of the 2,500 scholarships began attending private schools.