News: CJ Exclusives

Institute for Justice Defends Parents Seeking Opportunity Scholarships

Teachers union and school boards filed lawsuit against school-choice program

The Institute for Justice has joined the school choice fight in North Carolina.

The Arlington, Va.-based libertarian legal defense group is representing parents of North Carolina children seeking to defend the state’s recently enacted Opportunity Scholarship Program, often referred to as vouchers.

The program will provide scholarships to as many as 2,400 children from low-income families who want to attend a private school. The value of the scholarships, or vouchers, can be as much as $4,200. The first scholarships are scheduled to be awarded March 1 for the 2014-15 school year.

The Institute for Justice has filed lawsuits in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia over the past two decades on behalf of parents seeking greater educational choice for their children, claiming victories before the U.S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Courts in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Arizona.

The N.C. Association of Educators and the N.C. School Boards Association have filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to prevent the scholarships from being awarded, invalidating the law.

“The teachers’ unions and school boards fear that if low-income families begin to follow their wealthier peers to private schools that offer an education that parents prefer to that of the public schools, the public schools will no longer have a captive clientele and no alternative but to accept the inadequate education offered there,” a “litigation backgrounder” report from the institute says. “Jobs could be lost and the unions could lose income from dues.”

The NCAE filed suit in December against the voucher program, claiming that the N.C. Constitution requires that funds for public education must be used exclusively for public education.

Citing precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court, North Carolina, and Indiana, the institute says the plaintiffs are distorting the language of the N.C. Constitution. “The North Carolina General Assembly can use its general revenue fund to create educational programs outside of the public school system,” the report says. “That is exactly what North Carolina legislators have chosen to do through the Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

The Institute for Justice’s clients are two parents who have applied for opportunity scholarships for their children: Cynthia Perry of Wake Forest, whose daughter Faith attends an elementary school in Wake County; and Gennell Curry, whose two sons, Demetrius and David, attend South Granville High School.

Both parents hope to send their children to private schools if they are able to receive the Opportunity Scholarships.

More than 3,000 families already have applied for vouchers since the program began accepting applications on Feb. 1, according to the institute’s report.

Perry’s daughter, Faith, is a second-grader in the Wake County public schools who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She has trouble with reading comprehension and already has attended summer school twice, the institute’s report says. Perry says she is afraid that her daughter will slip through the cracks in the public schools.

Curry, a mother of four, became dissatisfied with the public schools and transferred them to private schools in Durham, and then to Christian Faith Center Academy once she moved to Creedmoor. Because of a change in financial circumstances, Curry had to begin sending her younger children back to public schools, the institute’s report says.

Curry is hoping the new voucher program will allow her to send her two sons back to CFC Academy. She believes that David, who is intellectually gifted, will receive an academically superior education, IJ says. And she’s hoping that Demetrius, a talented athlete, will have teachers “who will go the extra mile to help him excel academically as well,” the report says.

The Institute for Justice filed a motion last month to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Perry and Curry.

The institute believes that the NCAE and school boards feel threatened by the voucher program and “are trying desperately to get rid of the program before scholarships can be awarded.”

Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.