Board of Education joins suit against State

Says funding private schools unconstitutional
Dec. 20, 2013 @ 07:50 AM

The Rutherford County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday morning to join the North Carolina School Boards Association and others in filing suit against the State of North Carolina regarding the state's voucher program to fund private school education. 

The suit says the funding is in violation of the North Carolina State Constituion.

Meeting in a special session Thursday morning, the board put its stamp of approval on a formal resolution regarding the litigation.

Board chairman Dr. John Mark Bennett read the resolution and strongly recommended the board's approval.

Board members Jackie Hampton, Carolyn Keever, Sherry Bright, Matt Stamey and Barry Gold approved the resolution without comment.

In signing the resolution the board agreed to join as a plaintiff in the pending litigation, captioned Reverend Robert Richardson, III, Michael and Delores Galloway, Steven W. Sizemore  and the North Carolina School Boards Association vs. the State of North Carolina, the North Carolina State Board of Education, and the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, and authorizes the attorneys engaged by the NCSBA and other plaintiffs to represent the Board of Education in the litigation, with the litigation costs to be borne by the NCSBA’s Legal Assistance Fund.

According to a news release, a lawsuit filed on Monday in Wake County Superior Court challenges the constitutionality of legislation passed earlier this year that creates a private school voucher program using public funds.

 Under the legislation, which takes effect in the 2014-15 school year, a private school can receive up to $4,200 in public funding for each eligible student that it enrolls. The legislation does not require that a student struggle academically or attend a poorly performing public school in order to receive a voucher. It also does not require any assurance that public funds will be spent to provide students with an adequate education and one that is offered on a non-discriminatory basis. 

The suit was filed by four individual taxpayers, three of whom have children attending public schools and NCSBA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership association that represents all 115 local boards of education in the state and the Board of Education of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. 

The legislation initially appropriates $10 million in public funds. The complaint alleges that public funding will rise to $50 million in future budget cycles.

 “This challenge raises important questions about the use of public funds and our commitment to North Carolina’s students,” said Shearra Miller, president of the NCSBA and a member of the Cleveland County Board of Education, in the news release. “By diverting funding from the public schools, vouchers have the potential to significantly damage individual school systems, particularly in smaller districts.

"As a local board member, I am concerned about the impact that will have on our students. In addition, the voucher program does not ensure that private schools that receive public funding will adhere to our constitution’s promise that students will have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education and will not face discrimination. Given all of these issues, the NCSBA Board of Directors felt strongly that the organization should raise these questions in court.”

The complaint says the legislation violates the state constitution by using public dollars for a non-public purpose—private education opportunities outside the constitutionally required “general and uniform system of free public schools; failing to require participating private schools to adhere to any substantive educational standards or practice non-discriminatory admissions;diverting public dollars from the State School Fund, which is to be used “exclusively for  establishing and maintaining a uniform system of public schools;” and creating a system of selective secondary educational opportunities that denies students equal opportunities.