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.
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 Smoky Mountain News published an excellent analysis of the controversy centered on the current legislation called the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the Jan. 29 issue (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/12377). SMN Staff Writer Holly Kays presented this material in exemplary form.
I was particularly struck by the quote that is attributed to Rep. Roger West, our elected official from Marble. He said, “I think anybody that wants to make a decision to go to a private school, they ought to be able to do it, and they ought to be able to recoup what the state allocates for each student.” This seems like a strange system of reasoning to come from a representative who has sworn to uphold the laws of North Carolina (based on our constitution). Since 1789 North Carolina has provided public education opportunities for all of her citizens. Few would claim that the system has been perfect. Few would claim that our elected officials have acted perfectly all of the time. This, unfortunately, is one of those times when a group of elected officials has used very poor judgment. This will entangle state/local agencies and organizations in a costly legal battle to overturn this bad legislation.
It’s been six months since the N.C. General Assembly passed a budget earmarking $10 million for school vouchers to low-income students, but the issue is just heating up in Western North Carolina. On Jan. 9, Macon County became the first school district in the four-county region to add its name to a lawsuit decrying the program as unconstitutional, but they’re not the only ones talking about it.
In a unanimous vote at the Jan. 28 school board meeting, Jackson County also added its name to the litigation, and Haywood County discussed the issue at its Jan. 13 meeting when chairman Chuck Francis made an impassioned request that the board vote to join the lawsuit. However, the vote died on the floor without a motion to carry it forward. Swain County’s school board has not discussed the issue, and its next meeting is not until Feb. 10.