NC school vouchers on hold

Part 60 of 60 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org.

About 4,000 North Carolina families must wait for the courts to untangle a legal challenge involving the state’s voucher program before they’ll know what schools their children can attend next year.

SETBACK: Though vouchers cost about half what public schools require to educate students, North Carolina’s voucher law is being challenged in court.

“While we respect the court’s decision, we are deeply disappointed on behalf of the thousands of working-class families who desired this educational option,” said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, in a statement. “We will not yield until every parent and child from a poor or working-class background has the same educational opportunities that many of their wealthier peers have.”

Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood put a temporary stop to the voucher program Feb. 21, after refusing to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Association of Educators and 25 other plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges the voucher program shortchanges public schools, diverting funds from public schools to private schools.

But the program is perfectly legal, according to Richard Komer, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which is intervening in the lawsuit on behalf of affected families.

The state’s constitution designates certain money for public education, and that money must be spent on public education, Komer said. But that doesn’t prohibit the state from spending on school vouchers.

The program allows 2,400 students to receive scholarships of $4,200 each. Tens of thousands of students are eligible for the program, and about 4,000 applied, said Terry Stoops, director of research for the John Locke Foundation.

North Carolina public schools, in contrast, require $8,195 to educate each student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Center for Education Reform called the decision “appalling.”

“This injunction represents a shameful preservation of an unacceptable status quo,” Kara Kerwin, president of CER, said in a statement. “The blocking of Opportunity Scholarships when only 30 percent of low-income children in North Carolina demonstrate proficiency on state tests is egregious.”

Attorneys representing parents plan to appeal, according to Carolina Journal Online.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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