Judge gives voucher bill deserved ‘F’

In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt...,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution.”

He delineated specific ways the law was unconstitutional. He said it:

•  “appropriates to private schools... funds... which should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools;”

•  “appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose;”

•  “appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education;”

•  “creates a non-uniform system of education;”

•  “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no [mandated] standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified;”

•  “fails to guard and maintain the rights of the people ... by siphoning money from the public schools in favor of private schools;”

•  “allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.”

We have emphasized some of these points in opposing this misuse of taxpayer dollars. As we noted in February when Hobgood issued a temporary injunction against the plan, the law unwisely diverts public money to private programs that aren’t subject to the rigorous oversight the N.C. public schools receive. Hobgood, last week, summed this up succinctly with this comment: “The General Assembly fails the students of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no obligation to teach them anything.”

Instead of dealing with that huge flaw, legislative leaders tried to pull a fast one, pushing through a budgetary maneuver this session that deemed the $10 million allocated for the program “scholarship grants” and took the money out of the state’s General Fund budget. The amended law then astoundingly claimed “the scholarship funds awarded ... shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.”

Hogwash, Hobgood essentially said. “If scholarship grants shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina, this court is at a complete loss to understand the source of those funds... Follow the money. The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.