North Carolina Vouchers Headed To State Supreme Court

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Blake Neff Reporter
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North Carolina’s ambitious new voucher program is being expedited to the state’s Supreme Court after the body announced Friday that it will exercise a rarely-used right to have a case come before it without exhausting proceedings at lower court levels.

Created in 2013 and beginning this school year, North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program allows low-income families in the Tar Heel State to receive vouchers worth up to $4,200 per year that can be applied towards private schools, including religious ones. In the program’s first year, almost 1900 students are taking part.

North Carolina’s largest teachers union sued, however, and in August the program was struck down by Judge Robert Hobgood, who ruled that the vouchers serve no public purpose, give state money towards religious instruction, unconstitutionally siphon money off from public schools, and illegally remove education funding from the oversight of the state’s school board. A further problem, Hobgood said, was a general lack of public control or oversight for private schools.

“[This voucher program] appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified,” Hobgood wrote in his decision.

The case was quickly appealed to the state’s Court of Appeals, but the Supreme Court’s surprise action means it will skip that phase and go directly to the highest court without waiting on an additional ruling.

Proponents of the vouchers met the announcement with optimism, saying it will more quickly resolve the limbo the program is currently caught up in. They have reason to be hopeful, as the court has already made a favorable ruling related to the program earlier this year by removing a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the program from starting this school year.

“This is the second time that the North Carolina Supreme Court has recognized the importance of the scholarship program under attack in these cases and acted to expedite their resolution,” Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation.  The Institute for Justice is intervening in the case on behalf of two families receiving vouchers.

North Carolina’s voucher program is one of many recently embroiled in legal challenges. In Florida, a lawsuit challenging the expansion of the state’s voucher system was thrown out two weeks ago, while Louisiana has been probed repeatedly by the federal Department of Justice over its massive new voucher program.

Critics of voucher programs say they gut regular public schools of funds and allow taxpayer dollars to be spent on religious instruction. Supporters argue that by giving families choices in where to educate their children, all schools will be pressured to perform better, while parents will be able to select the mode of instruction they believe best.

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