Judge Rules Private School Vouchers Are Unconstitutional
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ruled the North Carolina's private school voucher program violates the state constitution which guarantees a quality education for every child. WRAL has the story,
Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the Opportunity Scholarship program is unconstitutional, upholding legal challenges filed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina School Boards Association and dozens of local school boards.
About 5,500 students applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, and the first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was released last Friday.
Hobgood issued a permanent injunction prohibiting any more state funds from being disbursed for vouchers. He said it would be up to the Attorney General's Office to determine how the state would recoup the money already handed out if the ruling is upheld on appeal.
State lawmakers created the voucher program last year, setting aside $10 million for the Opportunity Scholarships to start in the 2014-15 school year. They added more money to the program in this year's budget to accommodate as many of the applicants as possible.
Voucher supporters have argued that the Opportunity Scholarships program would give low-income parents another educational option when public schools aren't meeting their needs. They also maintained that the state could save money by shifting some students to private schools because of the high per-pupil cost in public schools.
Hobgood ruled, however, that the private schools can discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as North Carolina's public schools.
"Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose," he said.
Under the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit, the General Assembly is required to ensure students receive a sound education, and Hobgood said lawmakers can't delegate that authority to "unregulated private schools" and to parents "who have self-assessed their children to be at risk."
"It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools as mandated by the Leandro decision," he said. "The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything."