The state of North Carolina has flung itself off of a metaphorical constitutional cliff in recent years, most notably with a legislative proposal in 2013 that declared the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the state, meaning any local government there is free to establish religion.
That bill was withdrawn after being widely mocked on the web. But other bad ideas have since come down the pike in the Tar Heel State. More recently, state lawmakers approved a measure that will create a private school voucher program. The specifics are pretty straightforward: the vouchers, known as “Opportunity Scholarships,” will offer $4,200 in taxpayer money to low-income students so that they may attend private schools starting this fall. A total of $10 million will be available for the “scholarships” in 2014-15.
The program’s scope is so broad, however, even home-schools that teach religious doctrine could be eligible for taxpayer grants thanks to the quirkiness of state law.
Fortunately a group that includes teachers, parents and clergy recognized that these so-called “scholarships” are nothing but a scheme to hand out taxpayer money for religious instruction, so they’re challenging the ploy in court.
Last week, there was some good news: A North Carolina Superior Court judge decided to put the vouchers on lockdown until the lawsuit is resolved, meaning the state can’t just start passing out vouchers, the Charlotte Observer reported.
The action was taken because a judge ultimately felt the lawsuit was likely to succeed.
Naturally the groups challenging the program are pretty happy about this development, and it’s not hard to see why. The Observer noted that six private schools have already signed up to participate in the program, and at least two of those schools clearly discriminate based on religion or special-needs status.
One possible participant, Raleigh Christian Academy, makes parents and students sign off on a contract that they are in total agreement with the doctrinal positions of Beacon Baptist Church, which runs the school.
That agreement includes disparaging words about other religions, even other denominations of Christianity.
“We are not a church school for those in cults, i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Christian Science, Unification Church, Zen Buddhism, Unitarianism, and United Pentecostal,” the school’s application states.
Then there’s Greensboro Islamic Academy (GIA), another hopeful participant. That school says up front that it cannot accommodate students with special needs. But it gets worse. If a student is admitted then later deemed to have emotional, behavioral or learning issues, the school says it may boot that student from the school – but the state would allow GIA to keep its voucher check.
This is all just another example of the many, many problems with vouchers. In this case, schools could receive taxpayer money to discriminate, teach religion and take advantage of special-needs students. Clearly none of that should ever be allowed, and we’re glad to see this voucher scheme looks headed for its demise.
And while that would be a nice victory, the fight against vouchers is far from over. These schemes pop up constantly when misguided lawmakers and phony “school reformers” get together and craft bad education policy.
North Carolina may yet do something right when it comes to church-state separation, but there’s still a long way to go to squash all of the voucher programs around the nation.