By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
February 20, 2014
Although a Superior Court judge on Monday refused to dismiss a legal challenge to the state’s new Opportunity Scholarships, he also ruled that the Institute of Justice (IJ) could intervene on behalf of parents who want better options for their children than public schools are providing. Further arguments in the case are being heard Friday.
“We are disappointed that the lawsuits from the North Carolina Association of Educators and the N.C. School Boards Association were not dismissed, but encouraged that IJ is now on board to defend parents fighting for their right to decide what’s best for their children,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The fact that more than 3,000 parents have applied for these grants with the deadline still a week away shows how desperately they are needed.”
Approved last year by the General Assembly, which set aside $10 million for 2,400 grants, the Opportunity Scholarships would provide up to $4,200 for each student to use to supplement tuition at a school of their family’s choosing.
NCAE and the School Boards Association argue that the grants, because they involve public funds going to private schools, violate the state’s constitution, which calls for school funding to support “a uniform system of free public schools.”
>But attorneys for the state and lawmakers who drafted the legislation have pointed out that the $10 million to fund the grants isn’t coming from the public school portion of the state budget.
“The money for these Opportunity Scholarships was never appropriated to the public schools in the first place, but to the State Education Assistance Authority. It has been in business for decades and primarily administers college loans and grants,” said Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) in a recent press release explaining the fallacy of the NCAE’s argument.
Further, Assistant Attorney General Lauren Clemmons told the judge Monday that the point of the Opportunity Scholarship program is “to provide a different educational opportunity for the students of families from lower incomes who want another alternative.”
“This provision is not restricting the state from supporting other education programs or initiatives,” she said.
Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina, said that the scholarships are necessary because children are not getting the education promised them by the state.
“When only 30 percent of low-income children in North Carolina are considered proficient according to the NC Department of Public Instruction, it is clear that these children are not receiving a ‘sound, basic education’ as guaranteed by our state constitution,” he said. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program was designed to help fulfill this right to a sound education where regardless of your ZIP code or lack of income, children would still have a chance of obtaining a good education.”
He said to deny 3,000-plus parents who have applied the right to participate in the program was not just unconstitutional, but unconscionable.
Proponents of the scholarships, set to be awarded as early as March 1 unless the judge issues an injunction against them, also point to the fact that they will save the state money, since it costs the public schools an average of $8,400 per student per year.
“The CAL will keep following this issue, so stay tuned for updates as further arguments in the case are heard and rulings issued,” said Dr. Creech.