Last year was the first in generations in which North Carolina had a Republican governor working with Republican majorities in both the state House and state Senate. They quickly starting making up for lost time.
At a breakneck pace, GOP policymakers in the state cut unemployment benefits, imposed the most sweeping voting restrictions anywhere in the United States, blocked Medicaid expansion; repealed the Racial Justice Act; and imposed harsh new restrictions on reproductive rights. Rachel described it on the show as “conservatives gone wild.”
But North Carolina Republicans had some ideas on education, too, including the creation of a new voucher system, using public funds from taxpayers to subsidize private schools. As of today, that system is on hold following a new court order.
The legislature’s plan to give parents taxpayer money to send their children to private schools suffered a setback Friday when a Superior Court judge granted opponents’ request to freeze the program.Lawyers representing taxpayers, the N.C. School Boards Association and local school boards argued that the state constitution prohibits using public money to pay private K-12 school tuition…. The program would give about 2,400 students who leave public school up to $4,200 each to pay tuition at a private school.
The suit was filed three months ago by a diverse group of 25 plaintiffs that included parents, teachers, clergy, a prominent civil-rights advocate, and a former state schools superintendent.
And from this layman’s perspective, they appear to have rather plain language in the state Constitution on their side.
I read the state relevant portion of the North Carolina Constitution this afternoon and it doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room. It says the General Assembly shall provide funds “for a general and uniform system of free public schools,” adding that public funds “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”
Putting aside the policy argument over vouchers, it seems tough to get around specific constitutional language that says public money will be “used exclusively” for public schools. “Exclusively” isn’t exactly ambiguous.
I’d also note that vouchers appear to be on a losing streak lately. Today’s court ruling comes less than a year after the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) voucher system, which followed revelations of widespread abuses in the District of Columbia’s voucher system.
A growing number of Republican officials see this idea as a way to curry favor with minority communities, but if vouchers can withstand court challenges and routine scrutiny, the GOP may need a back-up plan.