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Board of Education passes on school voucher lawsuit

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

Fifty-four school boards in North Carolina have now signed on as plaintiffs in the North Carolina School Board Association’s school voucher lawsuit.

The lawsuit calls into question the constitutionality of offering families $4,200 annual taxpayer-funded scholarships to use at private schools. Lawmakers voted last year to set aside $10 million to assist students with private or religious school tuition.

On Feb. 1, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority began accepting applications for school vouchers. As of Feb. 4, 1,400 families had applied online, with 2,100 children competing for the 2,400 vouchers that will be issued for the 2014-2015 school year. Applications will be accepted until midnight Feb. 25 and recipients will be determined through a lottery drawing. Award notification will begin in March, unless the North Carolina Association of Educators files a successful injunction to halt the program’s implementation.

“It doesn’t necessarily cover the full cost, and it doesn’t mean the school can’t charge the rest of the cost,” North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority’s Director of Grants, Training and Outreach Elizabeth McDuffie said.

According to the NSEAA’s website, Opportunity Scholarship applicants must be assigned to and attending a North Carolina public school for the entire 2014 spring semester and currently live in a household whose total income qualifies the student for the federal free or reduced price lunch program. The applicant must enroll in an eligible nonpublic North Carolina school for the 2014-2015 school year. Those who have already received a high school diploma are not eligible.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association have filed suit against the school voucher program. A hearing is set for Monday to determine whether the voucher selection process should be delayed until the lawsuit is resolved.

Lincoln County’s School Board has opted not to sue the state.

“The Board neither approves nor disapproves of any other school district from joining the lawsuit brought by the NCSBA,” Lincoln County School Board Chairwoman Candy Burgin said. “This is a decision that every Board has to carefully consider, and the discussion is their own. Our Board discussed the lawsuit and whether or not to become a party to the suit; at the time of our discussion, the consensus of the members was not to join.”

Burgin said the school board’s decision should not be viewed as a reflection of how it or its individual members feel about the scholarship/voucher program.

“The Board decided that its time and energy is better spent on the issues facing its students and employees here in Lincoln County,” she said. “Despite the many choices parents in Lincoln County have, whether private schools, charter schools, and now the opportunity scholarships, Lincoln County Public Schools continues to offer a high-quality education for each of its students.”

At this time, the only participating private school in Lincoln County is Long Shoals Wesleyan Academy in Lincolnton.

While the Lincoln County Board of Education is not participating in the lawsuit, surrounding counties such as Catawba and Cleveland have signed on as plaintiffs.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has also filed a complaint against the new teacher contract system, which replaces teacher tenure with temporary contracts.

According to the NC Policy Watch website, lawmakers have devised a system that places teachers on one-, two- or four-year temporary contracts. During the 2014-2015 school year, teachers already possessing tenure will have the option of giving up their tenure for a contract. However, by 2018, all teachers will be required to be on a contract.

 

 

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