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New Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of N.C. Voucher Program

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The North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina Justice Center have sponsored a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a voucher program passed by the legislature earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against the state, asserts that the public was not given enough time or opportunity to provide feedback about the program because it was attached to a large budget bill rather than passed as its own separate piece of legislation. It says that private schools that receive the vouchers are not held to the same standards as public schools, allowing them to be operated by "inexperienced and unaccredited institutions," employ "unqualified and unsafe teachers and employees," and "teach using haphazard and unproven methods," among other problems.

The plantiffs also contend that the state's constitution prohibits such a program. That document says that public funds "shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools."

The voucher program, which is set to begin in the 2014-15 school year, allows families who qualify for the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program to receive up to $4,200 per child for private school tuition. In subsequent years, families that earn up to 133 percent of the amount required to receive free- or reduced-price lunches will be eligible for the voucher program.

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both Republicans, issued a joint statement denouncing the lawsuit, saying "not only are these left-wing interest groups fighting every attempt to improve public education, they now want to trap underprivileged and disabled children in low-performing schools where they will continue to fall behind their peers."

The Washington-based Center for Education Reform, a pro-voucher group, has also released a statement condemning the lawsuit.

Kara Kerwin, the group's president, said, "it's disappointing to see a blatant effort to inhibit underserved students and their families who wish to seek out more and better educational opportunities."

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