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Advocacy Groups Challenge School Voucher Law's Constitutionality

11:48 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Beginning next school year, taxpayer dollars will help pay private school tuition for low-income students in North Carolina.

It's law but advocacy groups including the North Carolina Association of Educators have filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. 

"It violates the Constitution. Article 9 Section 6 specifically states that public dollars will be set aside exclusively for the maintenance of a free public school system," explained Rodney Ellis, President, NCAE.

The law in question is called the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

READ:  Lawmakers Vote on $20.6 Billion Budget

It will begin in the 2014-2015 school year and will give about 2,500 students vouchers to pay for private school. Ten million dollars have been set aside for funding and qualifying students will get a voucher of up $4,500. 

Supporters say it will help low-income students at under-performing schools get a better education.

"It is still taxpayer dollars and you cannot divert tax payer dollars for the sole purpose of private institutions. You cannot do that," said Ellis.

"What they claim in their lawsuit is under Article 9 Section 6 that once [money] is appropriated to the public schools, it can't be diverted to somewhere else and that's true but this money was never appropriated to the public schools," explained Representative Paul Stam, R-Wake.

Stam co-sponsored this legislation and says Ellis and the 25 other plantiffs do not have a case.

Stam added, "Their argument that it diverts resources is just not factually true."

Stam says the money for the voucher program is being pulled from the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority - which helps fund college loans and education grants. 

He says this money was never in the budget for public schools.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senator Phil Berger called the lawsuit "meritless" and noted 16 other states have similar and successful voucher programs.

In a statement released to WFMY News 2, Tillis said, "Not only are these left-wing interest groups fighting every attempt to improve public education, they now want to trap underprivileged and disabled children in low-performing schools where they will continue to fall behind their peers. Their shameful and defeatist mission will only hurt these students and our state."

Ellis says he hopes to get a temporary injunction. 

READ: NC Constitution - Article 9 Section 6

READ: Opportunity Scholarship Act

READ: Lawsuit - Alice Hart, Rodney Ellis, et al. v. State of North Carolina

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