The Clinton City Board of Education unanimously agreed Tuesday night to add its name to a resolution supporting the North Carolina School Boards Association’s (NCSBA) lawsuit against the state, the state Board of Education, and the state Education Assistance Authority, calling into question the constitutionality of school voucher legislation passed by the General Assembly last year.
As school board members followed along, superintendent Stuart Blount read the resolution which acknowledges that legislators passed Senate Bill 402 last summer in which $10 million was appropriated specifically for private school vouchers and notes legislators’ intention to increase that appropriation as the program continues, up to as much as $50 million per year.
The first appropriation was made in June 2013 following the passing of the Opportunity Scholarships Act, a mandate which establishes a new school voucher program where taxpayer dollars are used to fund grants to help certain eligible students attend private schools. The designated $10 million in the budget could help make it possible for approximately 2,500 students to attend private school on state education dollars starting in the 2014-15 school year.
According to the act, students eligible for grants through the program are those who are full-time, currently attending a public school, and “reside in a household with an income level not in excess of the amount required for the student to qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.”
The N.C. State Education Assistance Authority began accepting applications for the school voucher program Feb. 1. Unless the NCSBA’s lawsuit, filed in December, stops the program, grant recipients could be notified as early as March. Recipients could receive as much as $4,200 per year, an amount that would be taken off public schools’ allotment and would be used to pay for some, but probably not all, of the selected students’ private school tuition.
The resolution, which over half of the state’s 115 boards of education have already signed, claims that the such a school voucher program “does not require participating private schools to provide students with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education” and “does not require participating private schools to engage in non discriminatory admission practices,” both which are required by the state Constitution.
The resolution also points out that the school voucher program “uses public funds for a non-public purpose” and will take significant funds away from each of the state’s local board of education as well as the state’s public schools.
“There’s a number of school systems across the state who have joined as plaintiffs,” said Blount during the regular board meeting, adding that he would recommend the city school board to consider passing the resolution, making them a plaintiff in the pending litigation too.
The city school board wasted no time making a decision. Vice chairman E.R. Mason made a motion to adopt the resolution. School board member Randy Barefoot offered the needed second, and the motion carried unanimously.
“We enthusiastically join this effort,” stressed fellow school board member Diane Viser, citing the portion of the resolution that reads “the voucher program created in the budget bill uses public funds for a non-public purpose, in violation of the N.C. Constitution” as making her especially “enthusiastic” to adopt the resolution and join in the battle against the school voucher program.
According to information provided by the city schools from The Progressive Pulse, a NC Policy Watch nonpartisan blog, 54 of the state’s boards of educations have signed the resolution as of Feb. 3 including Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham, Harnett, Lenoir, and Orange.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.