North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ruled that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional because “appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose,” WRAL reported Aug. 21.
Hobgood ruled against the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which was passed into law in 2013. The program provides up to $4,200 in private school scholarship funds to each student. To be eligible for these scholarships, students must qualify for free or reduced-price meal programs based on their household income levels. The scholarships were slated to be introduced to the 2014-15 school year for students who had attended public schools in the state during the prior academic year, although eligibility requirements change in 2015-16. Lawmakers appropriated $10 million for the scholarships during the 2014-15 school year. UPDATE: The legislature appropriated an additional $840,000 for the program in the budget approved earlier this month.
But the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state teachers’ union, and others sued to overturn the program at the end of 2013, says the voucher program violates the state constitution “because it appropriates revenue paid by North Carolina taxpayers to private schools for primary and secondary education.”
Previously, Hobgood had granted the plaintiffs an injunction that halted the voucher funds from being distributed to students. But in May, the state Supreme Court overturned that injunction, allowing the state to release the money. After his ruling, an attorney for the state asked what would be done about the funds that had already been distributed to students for the vouchers. Hobgood had a response ready that could present a challenge for state government:
Defendant atty: there’s currently money going through an electronic system that we can’t stop. Hobgood: AG will have to get the funds back.
— WRAL Gov’t Coverage (@NCCapitol) August 21, 2014
In response to the Aug. 21 ruling, Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports the vouchers, said in a statement that there will be an appeal and an attempt to block Hobgood’s most recent ruling from taking effect until the case gets further consideration.
“While this court decision might represent a temporary roadblock on the path towards educational freedom in North Carolina, I believe it’s just that—temporary,” Allison said, saying he was confident that a higher court would overturn Hobgood’s decision just as the state Supreme Court did with the earlier May ruling.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.