Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vouchers: Unconstitutional, or just a bad idea?

Diverting public money to private schools is a bad idea. But is it unconstitutional? There is a difference.

More than two dozen parents, teachers  and advocates filed suit Wednesday against the "opportunity scholarships" the legislature created this year. Those provide $4,200 scholarships to low-income students to attend private school beginning next fall.

Burton Craige, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, cites the language in Article IX, Section 6 of the N.C. Constitution referring to public money being used "exclusively" for public schools. "We're going to ask (the court) to declare that 'exclusively' means exclusively," Craige said in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.

But let's look at the full passage that Craige is referring to. Here it is:

"The proceeds of all lands that have been or hereafter may be granted by the United States to this State, and not otherwise appropriated by this State or the United States; all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to the State for purposes of public education; the net proceeds of all sales of the swamp lands belonging to the State; and all other grants, gifts, and devises that have been or hereafter may be made to the State, and not otherwise appropriated by the State or by the terms of the grant, gift or devise, shall be paid into the State Treasury and, together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools."


That appears quite different from saying public money must be used exclusively for public schools and not private ones. The section refers to that money "belonging to the State for purposes of public education" and money "as may be set apart for that purpose." That seems to say that money intended for public schools must go to public schools; it doesn't necessarily prohibit other money from going to private school vouchers.

These vouchers are bad public policy, as plaintiff Mike Ward, a former state schools superintendent, argues. They shift millions of dollars that the public schools need. There's little accountability. It's not at all clear that they are effective in closing the achievement gap.

And they may be unconstitutional in some way. But the context of Article IX, Section 6, suggests any unconstitutionality will have to hinge on more than the word "exclusively." 

-- Taylor Batten

5 comments:

Wiley Coyote said...

I love the "little accountabilty" remark, especially since there is NO accountability in the National School Lunch program.

When will you cry about accountability there, since the USDA overpays benefits to the tune of $1.6 BILLION dollars per year.

The same USDA also gives free meals to non-profit private schools. Granted, we're talking state funds here with vouchers, but the fact that private schools and home based childcare centers get funds from the Federal government for free meals, kids should also have the opportunity to get out of NC's failing public schools.

David Cline said...

I would like to see some research that explains how sending kids from low-income families to private schools improves their performance. If they are not getting any support from home, they are not going to do well no matter where they go and that goes for children of any income level. Also, why are these vouchers targeted for low-income children? Is the voucher just for low income or for any income because in every article about vouchers, children from low-income families and vouchers always go together.

Ben Cook said...

Article IX (Education) from NC State Constitution states.

Sec. 6. State school fund.

The proceeds of all lands that have been or hereafter may be granted by the United States to this State, and not otherwise appropriated by this State or the United States; all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property belonging to the State for purposes of public education; the net proceeds of all sales of the swamp lands belonging to the State; and all other grants, gifts, and devises that have been or hereafter may be made to the State, and not otherwise appropriated by the State or by the terms of the grant, gift, or devise, shall be paid into the State Treasury and, together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.

It is a lot to read, but the final few words say it all...faithfully approprated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.

There it is right in the state's own Constitution. There are no caveats or detractions mentioning to allow the use of state funds to be used towards private schools.

From a matter of policy, it underminds the GOP's argument about limited funding towards education....AS A WHOLE! If state revnues are so limited, where is this "extra" money coming from to fund scholarships that allows low income students to be provided $4000 towards private schools? It hurts their argument from a policy perspective.

Cornelia said...

I don't think Mr. Morgan need worry about the county spending money on lawsuits. They willingly spent plenty defending the lost cause, MeckLink, and we know how the city just loves spending taxpayer dollars fighting the airport commission. The local democrats would spend the taxpayers' last dime waging legal wars with republicans without giving it a second thought. It is not about educating the kids; it is about winning the next election.

CharlotteObserver said...

Why would we want to help low income students?

They will make great democrats one day by being forced to stay right with the public indoctrination system.

I hope everyone knew about obama and the democrats stopping funding for private schools in DC for low income folks, and the Republicans made it part of the requirement to restore that funding for continued spending by the feds.

Seems the dems, the observer and obama do now want any competition for the drop out factories paid for with our tax dollars.