Advocates of the misguided program to provide taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers are perfectly content to try to do an end-run around court rulings citing the program as unconstitutional. They want money for vouchers released even though Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood called a halt to the program on constitutional grounds.
What a logistical nightmare it would be to send out $10 million in taxpayer money only to have to ask for it back when all of this legal maneuvering has reached its logical conclusion: Giving public money to private schools, including religious schools, goes against basic constitutional church-state separation. And in his ruling, Hobgood cited two sections of the N.C. Constitution that direct the General Assembly to fund “a general and uniform system of free public schools” and to spend state revenues “exclusively” within that system.
State courts have also said the constitution demands that all students receive a “sound, basic education.” Private schools don’t play by the same rules as public ones. There are no uniform curriculum standards, different rules for teacher qualifications and no regulations against discrimination.
Questions about the chances of a sound education abound.
Voucher advocates want to simply move around Hobgood. They went first to an appeals court hoping to get his ruling upended to allow the disbursement of voucher money already approved for nearly 1,900 children. Now they are pushing ahead and asking the N.C. Supreme Court to take up the issue of releasing the money. That is outside the normal appeals process and motivated solely by politics.
Voucher advocates – including House Speaker Thom Tillis and Phil Berger, president pro tem of the GOP-run Senate – say that to call a halt to the distribution now would throw the lives of those 1,900 children into chaos.
Perhaps that should have been a consideration earlier this year when Hobgood first issued a preliminary injunction against vouchers when the N.C. Association of Educators, the N.C. School Boards Association and the N.C. Justice Center challenged the constitutionality of the program. Voucher proponents appealed the order, and in May the state Supreme Court overturned the injunction, allowing the school voucher program to move forward.
Republicans could have avoided this current crisis if they’d simply waited for judicial review in the normal, orderly process.
The very reasons proponents use to justify the need for vouchers are suspect. Lawmakers promote vouchers as a way to help low-income students escape schools that ill-serve them even as Republicans slash money that school systems use to pay for teacher assistants, pre-K programs and after-school mentoring programs that help low-income students.
Just what are Republicans and other voucher proponents up to with this attempt to do an end run around the courts? For one thing, if they can break some of the initial voucher money free, they know it will be as difficult to get it back as it is to get toothpaste back into a tube. And once the money is out, the program can only expand from there.
Entirely too much time has been spent trying to establish a highly questionable voucher program. Let the courts, in order, decide whether public money for private schools can stand the constitutional test before that public money is distributed.