(CN) - A Superior Court judge in North Carolina overturned a state law that provided vouchers to low-income families wishing to send their children to private or religious schools.
State lawmakers created the voucher program last year to give low-income families educational options when public schools aren't meeting their needs. In doing so they set aside $10 million for the "Opportunity Scholarships" to be dispersed at the start of new school year.
But in a highly anticipated ruling, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood upended the plan, holding that because the program doesn't require the alternative schools to meet state curriculum and teacher certification requirements, it violates the state constitution's guarantee for students to have an opportunity to a sound basic education.
"Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose," Hobgood said, according to a transcript
of the hearing.
"It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools as mandated by the Leandro decision," he continued. "The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything."
Hobgood issued a permanent injunction prohibiting any state funds from being disbursed for vouchers, and officials were reportedly able to halt the electronic transfer of the money to various schools.
In a written statement, Rodney Ellis, president of one of the groups opposed to the voucher program, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), said, "Today is truly a great day for our students, our public schools and all North Carolinians."
"We would like to thank the Court for protecting and upholding the North Carolina Constitution and finding opportunity scholarships unconstitutional. Clearly the idea of using taxpayer money to fund unaccountable private schools is unacceptable," Ellis said.
He called the decision, "A step in the right direction toward finding adequate funding for a high-quality public education for ALL students in North Carolina."
Another opponent of the vouchers, Carlene McNulty of the NC Justice Center, said her organization has "always maintained that our constitution requires public dollars to fund a high-quality public education system accessible to everyone.
"The court's ruling is a victory for everyone who values education in North Carolina," McNulty said.
Meanwhile, the state Attorney General's office said it plans to appeal Hobgood's ruling.