School vouchers temporarily halted

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 10:35 AM

A superior court judge halted the opportunity scholarships, or vouchers, for the time being. 

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued an injunction Friday that has temporarily halted the law, which has been appealed by numerous organizations, including the North Carolina Association of Educators, the NC NAACP, the NC Justice Center and numerous individuals. 

The Opportunity Scholarship Act, which was passed last year, gives opportunity scholarships, also called vouchers, to economically-disadvantaged families to send their child to private school. The voucher would be up to $4,200 per child. The law has been appealed on the grounds that it uses public money to send children to private schools. 

Dawn Moretz, an elementary school teacher and secretary of the Union County Association of Educators, said she was "ecstatic" when she first heard about the injunction. 

"Because after so many battles, we're finally having at least an initial victory," Moretz said. She said it was nice to know that their advocacy and action is getting some traction. 

Moretz said it was also edifying because this was not just a lawsuit brought by a "liberal stakeholder" but rather a combination of different groups. 

"Even though this isn't a final decision, I thought that this initial injunction was an initial victory for NCAE, but it was a constitutional victory for the children of North Carolina," Moretz said. 

Proponents of the legislation argue that the opportunity scholarships offer families a choice of education and that the injunction takes away from the families. 

"(Friday) the Wake County Superior Court made a disappointing decision. The decision halted the disbursement of opportunity scholarships, which have a focused purpose of providing critical financial aid to the poorest students in North Carolina," Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest said in a statement. "The decision, in effect, robs educational opportunity from those students who need it the most. The Wake County Superior Court sentenced the children of failing schools to a path of no options, no hope, and no future."

A statement for the American Federation for Children said that about 4,500 families have already applied for the vouchers for the 2014-2015 school year. The statement also said that an appeal to the injunction is expected. 

Moretz disagreed with the notion that disadvantaged-children were being robbed. 

"In terms of robbing children of their future, why would the North Carolina Legislature choose to rob from the K-12 education budget to assist a very small number with only partial tuition, as opposed to caring for all children and funding them all as needed," Moretz asked. 

Kim Hargett, UCAE president, said they were confused about why there is a sliding-scaleincome to be implemented in the guture allowing families with higher incomes to also participate. 

"If it truly is about serving the neediest, it seems they would keep the cap on the income level of the parents," Hargett said. 

Hargett said she is also concerned because once the child goes into a private school, that child loses protection. She explained that in public schools, they are bound by law to provide the best education possible for that student. In a provide setting, they are not necessarily bound by those same laws.