RALEIGH: Judge rules private school vouchers unconstitutional - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Private school vouchers unconstitutional, NC judge rules

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

More than $720,000 is in limbo after a judge ruled Thursday that using taxpayer money to pay for private school vouchers is unconstitutional.

The State Educational Assistance Authority said $727,000 was to be sent to schools for 1,800 students who had qualified for opportunity grants today, but the payments were stopped after Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled the program unconstitutional.

The General Assembly set aside $10 million last year to give up to $4,200 each for up to 2,400 students.

But Hobgood said the program violates the state constitution's guarantee for students to have an opportunity to a sound basic education because the schools are not obliged to meet state curriculum requirements.

"The Opportunity Scholarships would provide taxpayer funds to private schools without regard to whether these schools satisfy any substantive educational standards. Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose," Hobgood said.

It's also unconstitutional for public funds to go to privately run and managed schools, Hobgood said.

The ruling came after teachers groups and many of the state's 115 school boards challenged whether the state can spend public money on K-12 tuition at private or religious schools.

"We have no malice towards parents who feel like their kids should be attending a different school. That's certainly their options," said Rodney Ellis, with the N.C. Association of Educators. "But they should not be able to use public funds to do that."

Hobgood blocked the state voucher program in February until there could be a trial. The state Supreme Court then reversed the ruling in May and allowed implementation to go ahead.

In June, the state agency moved up the date to distribute tuition funding so that it could do it before Hobgood's ruling.

The program's supporters said they hoped an appeal would let the vouchers continue, said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

"We have kids whose families have enrolled them in private schools with the hope and desire of having an education that's going to meet their needs," said Darrell Allison, with Parents for Education Freedom in N.C. "If we don't deal with this permanent injunction, we're literally yanking these kids out of those seats that could be a hope of promise."

He added, "These families do not care about Republicans, Democrats, politics, policy -- they're just trying to find a school option that's going to work for them."

Parents for Educational Freedom in N.C., along with the state Attorney General's Office said they are planning on appealing the decision.

To qualify for the scholarship, children must qualify for the federal free or reduced-price school lunch program, which has an income limit of about $44,000 for a family of four. The grants aren't available to students already attending private schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Beau Minnick

Beau covers the North Carolina legislature, delivering valuable insights into state politics. More>>

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