School vouchers ruled unconstitutional

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 02:28 PM

While opinions clashed across the state, staff of Vance County Schools agree with the recent court ruling to ban private school vouchers.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood declared the Opportunity Scholarship program — a form of assistance for lower-income families wanting to send their children to private schools — unconstitutional Thursday, issuing a permanent halt on the program.

Vance County Board of Education member Ruth Hartness said she agreed with the ruling.

“I think everyone in Vance County Schools hoped that Hobgood would have voted the way he did,” she said.

The program would have turned $10 million in public education funding into scholarships for students to attend institutions outside the public system.

The vouchers would have given up to $4,200 per student to about 2,400 students.

Hartness said she was unsure if any children in Vance County had been affected.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Public Schools First North Carolina, said no money had been dispersed to families yet, despite the rush from State Educational Assistance Authority officials to do so.

The organization planned to distribute the first $728,000 in tuition money for 363 students on Tuesday.

In his ruling, Hobgood said the program would put taxpayer money into unregulated curricula.

“The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to low income parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk,” he said Thursday, according to North Carolina Policy Watch.

Hobgood ruled the Opportunity Scholarship unconstitutionally:

• Misappropriates funds that should be used to maintain a uniform system of free public schools;

• Appropriates funds outside the supervision and administration of the North Carolina Board of Education;

• Allows funding to non-public schools that could discriminate based on religion.

Some advocates have already planned for an appeal. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina — an organization that supported the vouchers — filed Friday.

President Darrell Allison said in a statement he was hopeful Hobgood’s decision would be overturned quickly.

“The Opportunity Scholarship is a partnership between the state and our participating private schools on behalf of our children,” he said in the release. “We must honor that agreement.”

Administrators for local private schools said they wished to wait for litigation to finish before making any comments.

 

Contact the writer at dhairston@hendersondispatch.com.