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Wednesday, 05 March 2014 01:48

Voucher legislation hits roadblock

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After a morning of arguments from both sides of the school voucher debate, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered the state to refrain from accepting voucher applications, selecting recipients, awarding money or implementing any other part of its program to provide private school scholarships to low-income students until the full case has been heard.

 

The N.C. Association of Educators and the N.C. School Boards Association have filed similar but separate suits against the voucher program. The order, called a preliminary injunction, seeks to prevent the legislation from causing “irreparable harm” while the case is in process.  

“By providing public funds to private primary and secondary schools, the OSP [Opportunity Scholarship Program] Legislation is likely to violate the mandate of Article IX, Section 6 [of the North Carolina Constitution] that states those funds ‘shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools,’” the court decision reads. 

It will take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years for the case to be fully resolved, depending on whether the state appeals Judge Robert Hobgood’s decision. 

The lawsuits stem from a law the N.C. General Assembly passed last year that would have allocated $10 million in scholarships to low-income students, allowing them to attend a private school of their choice. 

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 NCEA and the NCSBA 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. 

The two cases have not formally merged, but they are being handled jointly. Macon and Jackson county school boards voted to join the suit filed by the N.C. School Boards Association.

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