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North Carolina’s high court ruled 4-3 in favor of vouchers yesterday.
Even those who like the idea of using public funds to send students to private and religious schools, as well as to pay for home-schooling, may have trouble stomaching this bizarre decision.
Sharon McCloskey writes in NC Policy Watch just how bad this decision is, how it will set back the education of large numbers of children by using public money for home schooling and for schools that have no accredited teachers, no curriculum, no standards. This cannot be the way to prepare for the 21st century. It sounds instead like a headlong rush back to the nineteenth century.
Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.”
Finding that the state’s “Opportunity Scholarship Program” did not clearly violate the state constitution, the court reversed Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s 2014 ruling reaching the opposite conclusion.
“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,” Hobgood wrote at the time.
The challenged law, enacted as part of the 2013 state budget, allows the state to appropriate more than $10 million in public money to award qualifying low-income families $4200 per child for use at private schools.
Those schools, which can range from religious schools with several students to a home school of one, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.
In reaching its conclusion — and despite the constitution’s language that state funds should be “appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools” — the majority held that public funds may be spent on educational initiatives outside of the uniform system of free public schools.
As to the lack of accountability required of the private schools receiving public voucher money, the majority said that the constitutionally required “sound basic education” for North Carolina students, set down in the landmark Leandro decision, did not apply to private schools.