Educators sue state over private-school scholarship program

Dec. 12, 2013 @ 09:57 AM

Educators say they have had enough.
Members of the state’s teacher advocacy group, North Carolina Association of Educators, the N.C. Justice Center, parents and public education supporters on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that the unconstitutional school legislation passed by the General Assembly during the last legislative session will undermine student success by undercutting public schools.
The suit is specifically about the Opportunity Scholarship Program, or vouchers, that will give up to $4,200 for low-income children to attend private schools starting next fall. The lawsuit claims that providing public taxpayer money to fund private education violates the section of the state constitution that says a state fund “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”
Public schools have lost more than $43 million in state funding in the last five years. With this year’s budget, North Carolina lawmakers also eliminated tenure; eliminated funds for teacher assistants; and got rid of master’s pay for teachers who earned their master’s degrees. Teachers also didn’t receive a raise for the third year.
“It’s difficult to sit by and watch teachers get blamed for everything,” said Liz Foster, executive director of the Guilford County NCAE chapter. “If you really wanted student success, your priorities and your budget would show that.”
Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Ward warned that putting public tax dollars into private schools, at a time when N.C. schools already trail the nation in terms of commitment to students, is a recipe for disaster.
“This puts taxpayers in the position of funding private education for the few, and I think that’s a misuse of tax dollars,” he said. “That’s not what taxpayers want.” 
There are 25 plaintiffs named in the suit, including Margaret Arbuckle, retired executive director of the Guilford Education Alliance, and several others from Guilford County.
State Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said vouchers for students to attend private, religious institutions is an issue.
“That could go either way,” he said. “It’s a stretch to take taxpayer money to fund religious education.”
Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina, said the lawsuit hurts the neediest of children.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than a desperate attempt by opponents of parent choice to cling to an unacceptable status quo for low-income students to stay in schools that are simply not working for them,” he said. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program is not meant to supplant  our traditional public school system, but was enacted to supplement our traditional public system.”
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