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NC School Voucher Program Ruled Unconstitutional

PHOTO: Parents who had planned to send their children to private schools using North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship vouchers are in limbo after Thursday's Wake County Superior Court ruling that the program is unconstitutional. Photo credit: Chris Potter
PHOTO: Parents who had planned to send their children to private schools using North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship vouchers are in limbo after Thursday's Wake County Superior Court ruling that the program is unconstitutional. Photo credit: Chris Potter
August 22, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. - A Wake County judge on Thursday ruled against the state's new school voucher program, immediately ending the transfer of millions of public-education dollars to fund private schools.

The judge found fault with the "Opportunity Scholarship Program," set to begin this school year. Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center, explained the reason behind the court's ruling.

"It seems to clearly violate the constitution of using public money for a private purpose," he said. "This program allows our public taxpayer dollars to go to entirely unaccountable, unregulated schools, and we have not idea where this money is going."

Judge Robert Hobgood said the funds should be "exclusively used for establishing a uniform system of free public schools."

Supporters of the voucher program argue that it is increasing access to educational opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be available to lower-income families.

Hobgood also noted that private schools receiving the voucher funds are largely unregulated, and therefore are not obligated to demonstrate improvement in student performance. Fitzsimon said based on the judge's ruling, the vouchers won't be dispersed, leaving qualified North Carolina families unclear about whether there will be funding for their child's private education this year.

"The judge was clear that funds will be frozen," he said. "It's my understanding that no funds will be dispersed until there's either a trial that finds this program constitutional, or the Court of Appeals rescinds the stay."

In 2013, state lawmakers allocated $10 million for the "Opportunity Scholarships" to begin this fall. The vouchers are worth $4,200 apiece.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC