NC Supreme Court clears way for school vouchers

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | May 19, 2014

Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court halted a lower court injunction that has put the Opportunity Scholarship Program, often called a school voucher program, on hold.

The program, passed in July 2013, created scholarships of up to $4,200 for children from low-income and working-class families to attend a private school of the parent’s choice. To qualify, a child must be currently enrolled in a North Carolina public school and must reside in a household that qualifies for federal Free and Reduced Lunch.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina School Boards Association, dozens of local school boards, and ordinary citizens filed lawsuits against the voucher law, claiming that the voucher legislation siphoned taxpayer money to fund private institutions.

The new ruling means, at least for now, the state can go ahead with providing schools the scholarship funds and low-income parents can plan to send their children to private school this fall.The program has drawn so much interest that a lottery will be held to award the vouchers.

The decision to lift the injunction supports the more than 4,700 North Carolina parents who applied for their child to receive an Opportunity Scholarship.

Read more here:

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood suspended North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in February.

The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) was disappointed about the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The prudent thing would have been to answer these important constitutional questions before the state started spending public money on private schools,” Edwin Dunlap, Jr., the executive director of the NCSBA, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, noted in a press release.

But organizations like the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) were pleased that the injunction was lifted.

“We are grateful for the Supreme Court’s ruling as it will mean so much to the thousands of families who are desperate for more quality options,” said Darrell Allison, president of PEFNC, issued in a statement.

A local perspective

Now that the injunction has been lifted, Haywood County public school officials have concerns about the program, while other private school officials are feeling positive about the changes.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent of Haywood County Schools, said he was concerned about the vouchers reducing available funding.

According to Nolte, children who have been home-schooled do not get money from the school system now, but if they attend a charter school or private school in the future, they would receive school board funding that comes from the Haywood County commissioners.

Many of the private schools that are in operation are religious schools. Based on the voucher applications submitted by parents earlier this year, The Greensboro Islamic Academy was the school of choice in 158 applications, Victory Christian Center School in Charlotte was the choice for 87 applicants and Al-Iman School in Raleigh was requested in 77 applications.

“I’m concerned about taxpayer dollars being used to provide a church school education — there will be a number of people who will be concerned about that,” Nolte said. “They might feel OK if their religious beliefs are similar, but they wont feel good about it if it's beliefs that are completely different than theirs.”

Superintendent Anne Garrett estimates that about 4,000 of 7,500 Haywood County students would be eligible for the voucher scholarship.

“We’re not too concerned at all about students who choose a different route because we’re not meeting their needs, our concern is that the money is being taken from the public school budget,” Nolte said.

Blake Stanbery, headmaster at Haywood Christian Academy, said he was in support of an improved education, regardless of whether it’s public or private.

“I believe the two sharpen one another and that not every school is a perfect fit for every child/family,” Stanbery said.

Currently, 121 students are enrolled at HCA, but has potential to grow with a capacity of 180, Stanbery said

When asked about the voucher program siphoning away funds from public schools, Stanbery wrote in an email response, “The voucher program does redirect monies to families, but not directly to a private institution, for K-12 education purposes. NC taxpayers pay for our public school system regardless of whether they chose to send their child to a public school. I think you have to look at the overarching goal of a better education for NC children. Typically a more free market environment makes everybody better, public or private sector, because we are driven to produce results and in the end the child is the winner.”