“The General Assembly fails the students of North Carolina when they are sent with public, tax-payer money to private schools that have no obligation to teach them anything.
– Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood
In a strongly worded decision from the bench Thursday morning, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled North Carolina’s new voucher program (politically messaged by Republicans as “Opportunity Scholarships“) in violation of the North Carolina State Constitution.
Judge Hobgood found the entire scheme in violation of 2000’s Leandro decision in which the Court ruled that the at-risk children in North Carolina are not obtaining a sound basic education and that the reason appears to be the lack of a coordinated, effective educational strategy for at-risk children statewide. Judge Hobgood focused mainly on the concept that the voucher program would siphon money from public education in order to fund a system of private schools in North Carolina. The ruling also agreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that there are no real regulations on the private schools (most of them religious) in order to guarantee that students will receive a real education. Furthermore, Judge Hobgood ruled that there are insufficient protects in the voucher bill to protect students from discrimination.
“It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools as mandated by the Leandro decision,” Judge Hobgood stated in his ruling.
Hobgood ruled from the bench:
“The Court finds from the record, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from tax-payer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution Article 1 section 15& 19 (with respect to religion) of the Declaration of Rights.”
Judge Hobgood issued a permanent injunction to “Any further implementation of the Opportunity Scholarship program.” He also denied a stay requested by the defense who wished to allow the program to be implemented while any appeals are being heard.
In his decision, Judge Hobgood made seven individual findings that include:
1. Appropriates to private schools K – 12 by use of funds which apparently have gone to the university system budget that should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.
2. Appropriated education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose.
3. Appropriates education funds outside of the supervision and administration of the State Board of Election.
4. Creates a non-uniform system.
5. Appropriates tax-payer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, including curriculum and requirements that teachers and principals are certified.
6. Fails to guard and maintain the right of the people to the privilege of education by siphoning money from the public schools in favor of private schools.
7. Allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate.
Judge Hobgood’s order will immediately halt the process of making voucher payouts and orders Attorney General Roy Cooper to work to recover any funds that have already been dispersed. About 5,500 students applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, and the first $730,000 in tuition money for more than 360 students was released last Friday. The defense will, of course, appeal.
You can see the judge’s full decision HERE.