The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday morning on a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s private school voucher program.
The status of private school vouchers in North Carolina has been in flux ever since two lawsuits were filed in December 2013 that seek to end the vouchers, or Opportunity Scholarships. The North Carolina Association of Educators and the NC Justice Center filed a suit on behalf of 25 plaintiffs, while the NC School Boards Association filed a second lawsuit.
Last summer, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood found the program to be unconstitutional “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he stated.
His decision is under appeal, with the Supreme Court now expected to weigh in. Meanwhile, the program launched this school year and has been allowed to continue while its fate is decided. This school year, the state spent more than $4 million to send about 1,200 low-income students to private and religious schools across North Carolina.
In 2013, when lawmakers created the program, they set aside $10 million to provide low-income students up to $4,200 a year to attend private schools. Last year, they provided an additional $840,000 to expand vouchers.
Supporters of the program say demand is growing; they argue that parents – like Micheal Greene – deserve extra educational options for their children.
Greene sent his 15 year-old son to High Point Christian Academy last year with an opportunity scholarship. He says his son struggled for years in public schools.
“I’ve noticed my son has grown, academically and spiritually. He wants to be there, he enjoys school now,” he said. “As an African-American male, it’s not easy out there and I have to prepare him for this world.”
Greene says his son thrives in the smaller classroom settings his new school offers.
But opponents of the program argue that it siphons money away from already cash-strapped public schools. They say public schools over the years have been suffering from fewer resources, like teacher assistants, textbooks and supplies.
They also contend that private and religious schools are not accountable to the public and that they could discriminate based on faith.
“I have no objection to private schools. I do object to public funds being used to fund students in private schools,” says former educator and lead plaintiff Alice Hart. “I think it’s wrong.”