Choice program deserves defense

By John Hood | Apr 16, 2014

RALEIGH — Liberal activists may fume, and left-wing editorialists may grind their teeth, but legislative leaders are going to defend their 2013 opportunity scholarship bill against lawsuits by the teacher union and other special interests.

Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Thom Tillis, House Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam (the main architect of the program), and other leaders won’t be defending school choice because they oppose public education. They won’t be defending school choice because some national organization told them to. They won’t even be defending school choice because it enrages their political adversaries, though perhaps that’s a side benefit.

No, North Carolina’s political leaders are defending opportunity scholarships for at-risk and disabled students because it’s the right thing to do.

In virtually no other case are recipients of a government-funded service forbidden from choosing providers that best meet their needs. No one tells Medicare patients what hospitals they must visit. No one tells food-stamp recipients where they must shop. In education, both federal and state governments provide financial assistance to children who attend child-care centers and preschools, as well as to students who attend colleges and universities. Their families are free to choose from among public and private providers of these educational services, with nary a peep out of the usual left-wing suspects.

What makes elementary and secondary education a proper exception to this rule? Nothing. The only distinction is that district-run public schools have until recently enjoyed a monopoly. They simply don’t want to give it up.

It was no surprise that the North Carolina Association of Educators and other groups filed suit to block implementation of the new voucher program for the 2014-15 school year. They worry that once thousands of low-income children are enrolled in schools of choice, it would be politically disastrous to strip them of their choice later on.

It came as more of a surprise, however, when Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood granted the union its desired injunction and issued a poorly reasoned decision about the case. As Institute for Justice attorneys representing potential voucher beneficiaries argued in their own appeal of Hobgood’s decision, the injunction “was granted based on obvious misrepresentations of the North Carolina Constitution, misrepresentations so plain that neither group of plaintiffs could cite any North Carolina precedents on point.”

Indeed, the closest thing to a precedent that anyone has been able to find, a North Carolina Supreme Court decision in 1979 in a case called Hughey v. Cloninger, is helpful rather than harmful to the school choice cause. The case arose when Gaston County began appropriating local tax dollars to the Dyslexia School of North Carolina, a private institution serving students whose special needs were not being met by their public schools. A plaintiff sued to stop the county subsidy, a position that the Supreme Court ultimately agreed with — but not, the justices concluded, because taxpayer funding of private education was unconstitutional. Instead, the Court observed that the General Assembly had already authorized “educational expense grants” to North Carolina families of special-needs students attending private schools. Because counties have only the budgetary authority granted to them by the state, Gaston County couldn’t initiate a direct subsidy of the school in question, because the legislature had already expressed its preference for a voucher mechanism.

Has anything happened since 1979 — any constitutional amendment or interpretation — that makes “educational expense grants” illegal? If so, why didn’t the teacher union and its allies say so in their legal arguments? If not, why wasn’t their case, or at least their requested injunction, dismissed outright?

Whether Attorney General Roy Cooper does the job or legislative leaders hire counsel to do it for him, North Carolina’s opportunity-scholarship program must be defended all the way to the Supreme Court. Its existence doesn’t threaten the existence or dominance of public schools, just as legislative tuition grants for private colleges don’t threaten the existence of UNC and Smart Start grants for private preschools don’t threaten the existence of public ones.

What the program does is give parents more choices. Who’s against that — and why?


Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.


Comments (6)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 06:18

Well, this is a smart article indeed.  Some VERY good points for you people that are anti-school-choice to consider.  I have never heard anyone make a good argument about why parents having choice is a bad idea.  I have heard some implied arguments that parents having choice could threated the big-education monopoly -- and I accept that point.  Furthermore, is it really bad for the big-education monopoly to be treated as any monopoly should be treated?  I say not.  Maybe that's the simple argument.  Big-education simply wants the powers a monopoly gives them.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 17, 2014 10:27

               More abject nonsense!

               From OUR N.C. Constitution:

Sec. 2.  Uniform system of schools.

(1)        General and uniform system: term.  The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.

(2)        Local responsibility.  The General Assembly may assign to units of local government such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate.  The governing boards of units of local government with financial responsibility for public education may use local revenues to add to or supplement any public school or post-secondary school program.


Sec. 3.  School attendance.

The General Assembly shall provide that every child of appropriate age and of sufficient mental and physical ability shall attend the public schools, unless educated by other means.


                     Anyone caring to read the plaintiffs lawsuit against state funded vouchers will find that they quite well listed OUR state Constitution's requirements for public education as the basis of their remonstrance. As well as the 1979 case. Perhaps hood should actually read the suit.

                      All parents are free to  homeschool or send their kids to any alternative school that meets the "uniform" state requirements. BUT! The cost is on them. As it should be. Recent voucher legislation restricts state requirements of teacher credentials and loosens requirement as to "uniform" teaching, opening the door to unqualified teachers using non-conforming means to teach anything. ON OUR MONEY! Talk about paying for OUR own subversion.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 11:43

That's all fine.  And it's also just as fine to provide scholarships for students to attend any kind of schools.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 17, 2014 15:59

                   Any parent that chooses to home school or use private schools must pay the price themselves, by the N.C. Constitution.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 17, 2014 18:17

"Any parent that chooses to home school or use private schools must pay the price themselves, by the N.C. Constitution." -- FALSE.  The constitution says no such thing.  Only that a free and appropriate education will be provided by NC.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 17, 2014 19:17

         Most certainly it does! The state is required to provide a uniform education and all students of appropriate age must attend, unless other schooling is provided. There is no means in the N.C. Constitution to give any moneys in support of home schooling or private schooling. Taxes once paid belong to US. No one gets their taxes back to provide for their kids schooling. That is just ridiculous. It is a rejection of the cause of Liberty which requires OUR students be educated to "uniform" standards.


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