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Judge’s order halts voucher suit

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking a North Carolina law that allows low-income parents to send their children to private or religious schools with taxpayer money.
Judge Robert Hobgood’s ruling last Friday prevents the state from holding a lottery this March that would award approximately 2,400 vouchers for the 2014-2015 school year. As of last Friday, 4,719 students have applied for the annual grants of up to $4,200 per child, known as Opportunity Scholarships. According to an affidavit given by the director of grants at the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, four counties had more than 500 applicants. Mecklenburg County currently has 750 applicants, and Wake County has 670 applicants. More than half of the applicants were from Mecklenburg, Wake, Cumberland or Guilford counties. Eighty-nine of the state’s 100 counties had at least one applicant, and nearly 75 percent of the applications were for minority students.
The Times-News previously reported that voucher supporters believe the program will give low-income parents an alternative educational option when they feel public schools are not meeting their needs.
Friday’s arguments focused on what the state constitution allows and whether the legislature improperly took money away from the state’s public schools to give to private schools.
Opponents of the bill have argued that vouchers would send money to schools that discriminate based on religion or disability. One school that has come under fire is Raleigh Christian Academy, which requires its students and parents to sign a contract stating they are in 100 percent agreement with its fundamental doctrinal practices.
Their school application states, “we are not a church school for those in cults, i.e. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Unification Church, Zen Buddhism, Unitarianism, and United Pentecostal.”
Special Deputy Attorney General Lauren Clemmons, who is defending the state in the lawsuits, said it’s unlikely that parents who object to a school’s religious doctrine would seek to send their children there. Furthermore, Clemmons said the schools have the right of freedom of association.
“What I’m hearing from the plaintiffs is that they don’t like people asserting their First Amendment rights,” Clemmons said.
The Education Assistance Authority had planned to hold a lottery for applicants later this month, but with the present injunction, the program cannot go forward. Lawyers for both sides stated the lawsuit could be tied up in courts for more than a year.

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