North Carolina educators, parents & clergy challenge school voucher constitutionality


by Félix Pérez/image above: Former state supt. Mike Ward speaks at news conference announcing lawsuit

A group of North Carolinians, including active and retired educators, a former state school superintendent, the president of the state’s largest educators’ association and several parents, filed a lawsuit against the state’s voucher program, charging that the law violates the state constitution’s requirement that state funds be used “exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

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“Vouchers for private schools are an affront to a state that has a long and cherished history of public education,” said Rodney Ellis, a teacher from Winston-Salem with two children in public schools. “Using public money to pay for private schools is part of a broad assault on public schools — and on the constitution of our state,” added Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

The voucher program is one of a series of laws by Governor Pat McCrory and a state legislature hostile to teachers and public education. The voucher program alone will drain $11 million from public schools in the 2014-15 school year. North Carolina spends $500 million less on public schools than it did 2008 even though the student population has grown by more than 50,000 during that period. Recent budget cuts have resulted in a loss of more than 10,000 pre-K slots, the cap on class sizes and 9,000 education positions.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, December 11, by the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina Justice Center, maintains that the voucher law violates Article IX, Section 6, of the North Carolina Constitution, which states that public funds for education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” The legal complaint also contends the law violates Article V, Section 2(1), of the constitution, which states the “power of taxation shall be exercised .  . . for public purposes only.”

rodney ellis NCAE
Rodney Ellis, teacher, plaintiff and NCAE president

Melinda Lawrence, executive director of the Justice Center, said in a statement, “The North Carolina Constitution could not be more explicit. Public monies are to be used only for free public schools. Period. That is the heart of our legal challenge.”

Private schools that participate in the program are not required to have their students take state proficiency exams, hire licensed teachers, issue report cards or even be accredited. Many private schools will not have to provide any student achievement information to the state.

Plaintiff and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Ward warned that putting public tax dollars into private schools will further weaken already underfunded public schools.

Vouchers are not a solution to the problems in our schools. The answer is to strengthen our schools, not to strip them of more resources, said Ward.

Ward said that while sponsors of the legislation claim their voucher plan will help disadvantaged students, the program’s lax requirements are a recipe for abuse.

“This puts taxpayers in the position of funding private education for the few and I think that’s a misuse of tax dollars,” he added. “That’s not what taxpayers want.”

Reader Comments

  1. The tide is turning–slowly–yet how in the world does anyone allow taxes to pay for private education or yet worse the phony charters (who cream the public schools best students) and purport to do better (no evidence, even with our best students taken from us)–but those corporate backers have a lot of money and keep on telling their bull-shit story—-well my kids go to public schools and their kids will go to public schools and I went to public schools–and WE NEED public schools to keep our country OUR country–should we really even let the corporations and business take over–what skin do they have in the game except $$$–these are our kids –not hedge funds to be played with–please understand this–how caring are those business individuals?? and then how caring are their teachers making $40,000 a year to take care of our most precious commodity–this isn’t oil or pork bellies or wheat–these are real live children–say NO to the selfish sicko’s who will even prey on your children to make a dollar—Tom

  2. I teach in Florida. We have been battling the same voucher drain and setting up for public schools to fail, (deep budget cutting, a contrived evaluation plan,and paying large sums to promote a “one style fits all” method of teaching). At this point many teachers are retiring because of the demoralization, “deprofessionalization”, and media vilification of public schools. Support now comes from the parents, students and teachers in public schools. Even the unions are caving. = [

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