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August 22, 2014 1:15 PM Setback For Backpack Vouchers in North Carolina

By Ed Kilgore

I wasn’t aware that North Carolina had created a program providing public money for private K-12 schools with zero accountability, but it’s obviously not surprising given the state’s current management. But the program has at least temporarily come to a screeching halt thanks to a very blunt ruling from Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood.

Here’s the story from NC Policy Watch (via Charles Pierce):

In his ruling today Hobgood recognized the state’s obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the Supreme Court in its Leandro decision .
“The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to low income parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk,” he said.
Hobgood noted that the private schools receiving the scholarships are not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time.
The collateral effect of the program, he added — whether intended or not — is to remove the Leandro protections from the hundreds of students who have been determined “at-risk” solely by their own parents.
“It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound basic education in public school as mandated by the Leandro decision,” he said.

The Leandro decision that Hobgood’s talking about is a North Carolina Supreme Court precedent that established a state responsibility to ensure each school-age child a quality basic education.

It appears the North Carolina program is an example of “backpack vouchers” where specific kids are given funding their parents can use absolutely anywhere, including and perhaps especially Church of the Final Thunder Bible Academy type schools. The biggest such program is in Louisiana, but it’s struggled legally just like North Carolina’s.

But in Louisiana there’s been at least a token effort to provide some sort of certification of eligible schools for vouchers, despite Bobby Jindal’s insistence that all this “standards” and “results” crap is liberal bushwa aimed at taking away the inherent God-given right of parents to use taxpayer dollars to entrust their kids to the care of the Rev. Jimmy Joe Jeeter. North Carolina’s program makes no pretense of accountability to the public for the use of taxpayer dollars at all.

Hobgood’s decision has been appealed, of course, to a state Supreme Court that earlier overturned the same judge’s effort to stop implementation of the program pending a full hearing. But whether it prevails or not, it’s good to see so clear an articulation of the principles involved.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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