Have you been following the NC Voucher saga? Here is a late summer update. It has been going well – thanks to good rulings and a timely computer glitch. And then we run into the state legislature interfering with the courts. You won’t believe it. Read on..
On Aug 21, 2014, Superior Court Judge overturned the new voucher law that would have funneled $10 million to private schools in 2014/2015 alone
Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) program is unconstitutional. He ruled that using public taxpayer money for private schools is unconstitutional. The legal challenges had been filed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina School Boards Association and dozens of local school boards. (More at www.wral.com/judge-rules-nc-school-voucher-program-unconstitutional/13911842/)
But the story is more tricky and involved than that.
Originally, the voucher funds were to be distributed on Sept 19, after a reasonable ruling process. But the state moved voucher distribution to Aug 15, before the ruling. Luckily, an electronic glitch prevented distribution of the funds before the ruling.
After Judge Hobgood made his decision, but before it was written up, voucher advocates ran to the NC Court of Appeals to get an emergency ruling to let them get taxpayer funds for vouchers (Fri., 8/22/14). This was also rejected on Monday, 8/25/14. Then most of the same intervenors in the lawsuit, Speaker Tillis (NC House) and Senator Berger and some families, pushed ahead to the NC Supreme Court! The Supreme Court has a conservative majority, even before Judge Sarah Parker was forced to retire (solely based on her age, retiring on 8/31/14). (http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/08/26/4099052_nc-supreme-court-asked-to-release.html)
On Tue., 9/2/14, the Supreme Court rejected the request for emergency release of school voucher funds. (http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/02/4117084/state-supreme-court-rejects-emergency.html)
However, it’s not over yet. The state set up a new process for hearing constitutional challenges in 8/14. (http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/08/16/4074408/three-judge-panel-system-could.html) This new process is really frightening. According to the article, this process makes constitutional challenges less likely to succeed when filed in state court. Beginning in September, all constitutional challenges to laws will be heard by three-judge trial court panels appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. That would be the new chief justice, as Chief Justice Sarah Parker had to retire on 8/31/14.
The process has worked correctly so far – thanks to good rulings, and that glitch that prevented premature disbursement of public money for private schools. Now we’ll have to depend on the Supreme Court panels to do the right thing. We must hope, for all of NC, that they do.