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Defending NC’s School Choice Program

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
The Truth Network Radio
March 8, 2014 12:00 pm

Defending NC’s School Choice Program

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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March 8, 2014 12:00 pm

NC Family  president John Rustin talks with Renee Flaherty, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocacy group for school choice, about the legal defense of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is being challenged in two separate lawsuits.

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This is family policy matter program is produced by the North Carolina family policy Council of profamily research and education organization dedicated to strengthening and preserving the family, and often the studio hears John Rushton, president of the North Carolina family policy Council, thank you for joining us this week. Profamily policy matters in our pleasure to have remained clearly with us on the program. Rene is an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the nation's leading legal advocacy group for school choice and is one of the attorneys involved in the legal defense of North Carolina's opportunity scholarships.

Now this is an educational scholarship grant program enacted by the North Carolina Gen. assembly in 2013 that is aimed at providing more school choice options for children in lower income families, especially when the child's parent believes the child's educational interest would be best served by attending a private or religious school program is currently being challenged by two separate lawsuits and Rene is here to talk with us today about those lawsuits. The current status of the case and why North Carolina school choice program is in fact constitutional. Rene, it's great to have you with us. Great to be interesting. Thank you will please call me John.

And thanks for your time. As I mentioned north Carolina's opportunity scholarship program is being challenged into separate lawsuits and a wake County Superior Court Judge recently put the program on hold while these lawsuits proceed. If you would Rene tell us about the lawsuits. The groups behind them and what they are essentially seeking to do show where on lawsuits are about North Carolina families and their right to choose what's best for their children and to send them to school. That works for them on the opportunity scholarship program is one of the best design school choice programs in the country at its actually got 4700 applications for 2400 slots and that's unprecedented in the school choice movement and these lawsuits are trying to derail this program which is built so much momentum and I mean a hard time to disrupt the program before it even starts on to disrupt it right after they get the application then and before they can start notifying families on in. This is a critical period and DI teachers Association and the school boards have brought the lawsuits because they're afraid of losing low income kids to private schools.

They are afraid of competing with private schools with low income families are allowed because of programs like the opportunity scholarship program to go to private schools in the public schools won't be able to take them for granted anymore and so the Institute for Justice is fighting with two parents who wish to take part in the program who have applied for scholarships so that their voices can be heard because the parents voices. The families voices are the most important ones that seems to be very consistent with the horde of school choice programs in and of themselves but really is an opportunity for parents and for those students to act on their choice and select the educational opportunities that are best suited for them and clearly many of the children and the parents of the children who are seeking these opportunity scholarships do not believe the North Carolina's public schools are serving their best interest.

Yes, that's correct and wheat we have to clients Cynthia Perry and Janelle Curry and they both want to send their kids to private schools on Ms. Perry. Cynthia had a daughter named St. she's eight years old and is in the second grade in public schools and she suffered from reading comprehension issues and ADHD and you think you've been very involved in her education has done everything she can, up until now, but fetuses had to attend summer school twice and she's really been struggling and Cynthia wants to send her to a private school because they have smaller class sizes so that she can get you kind of one-on-one attention that she needs and Cynthia can afford to send faith to private school on her own. So when she heard about the opportunity scholarship program.

She was really excited. It gave her hope. Much like Janelle Curry. Our second client, she has four kids that she's trying to center school and her kids actually have been in private school that she knows she was unhappy with the public school so she moved her children to private schools, but then because of the change in financial circumstances she had put them back in the public schools, and two of her sons now are still in school and want to go back to the private school because they were really happy there. One of her sons is actually academically gifted and felt like he's not being challenged enough in the public schools and he was thriving at the private school. Janelle's other son is a talented athlete and he was thriving both academically and athletically at the private school and naturally wants to go back and Janelle can afford to send to kids to private school so she was very excited about the program as well.

Thank you for sharing the background about the family specifically and directly involved in this case a truly helpful for listeners to understand often when we hear about school choice goods: open the notion that these are all just political issues and they are no bigger issues that I have will loves in real families behind them. As you mention the Institute for Justice has been involved in a number of school choice cases across the country and has successfully defended school choice program similar to that being debated in with her love and they'll talk about those cases, if you will, and how they relate to this case that you're dealing with here in North Carolina sure that you most similar programs are one in Ohio and one in Indiana and actually around this time last year the Institute for Justice had a huge victory in the Indiana Supreme Court upholding a similar scholarship program for low income families in it was actually a similar attack to Teachers Association and the school boards are using in the North Carolina cases saying that absolutely no public funds can go to benefit private schools in any way Indiana Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the program so that was a huge victory for IJ and for the school choice movement in the other the other program is actually even bigger victory. The Ohio program because that one went all the way up to the US Supreme Court in Zelman B. Simmons Harris on this was also very similar program but it was a little bit different in that it was only for inner-city kids in Cleveland, whereas mercuric Carolina's program is a statewide program is Zelman V. Simmons Harris on the Cleveland program was challenged on both state constitutional and federal grounds and it was upheld at the state level at the Ohio Supreme Court and then went on to the US Supreme Court, where it was upheld on the US Supreme Court held that even though some of the money was going toward ultimately religious schools that didn't mean the program was illegal.

In addition to the school choice programs in other states that have been impacted in some of those have been challenged. There have also been some relevant legal cases in North Carolina that actually help bolster the constitutionality of opportunity scholarship program. Can you talk a little bit about those cases and how they relate to the present case you right now the program is definitely supported by North Carolina case law on me think of a couple there's an older case, the Dell Conti case at this was back in 1985 and the North Carolina courts held that North Carolina families can send their kids to public schools, private schools or homeschool them, and that any of those options satisfies North Carolina's requirement that every child be educated and as a result of that case. North Carolina has thriving and vibrant marketplace of private schools over 700 I think I'm in plenty of families to homeschool their children.

So, that's because of the Dell Conti case on another one is the Sugar Creek case and this case we had to deal with the funding of charter schools, but in the processes some technicalities about charter schools not being able to get some very specific local county funds North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the state can create other educational programs and other schools that are funded differently from the traditional public schools and the opportunity scholarship program is one of those other educational programs.

No arguments that the other side is using essentially talking the funding of the program was unconstitutional is that the sole basis of their argument. You are there other matters that they are arguing to try to overturn the opportunity scholarship meeting argument is about the funding, which as I said earlier basically boils down to absolutely no public funds can be spent in any way that helps private schools and that we have to responses. First of all the money is not going to private schools, the monies for the benefit of the parents. The parents get to choose which school it goes to and the money is neo-foreign towering empowering parents, and I think a helpful analogy would be like saying Medicare is for the benefit of the hospitals and the doctors and patients on so that's our first response and are thinking responses that you know. Yes, there are some funds that are set aside by the North Carolina Gen. assembly will only fund public schools and those funds can't be used, to help private schools in any way. However interaction but this program is not being funded from those funds being funded through general revenue for the other claims in both lawsuits. They are frankly a little, you know even more attenuated than the funding argument. There are some claims that Nino Deese that the private schools are sufficiently regulated don't have the right curriculum requirements or the right licensing requirements for the teachers and that kind of thing, and that as a result kids that go to these private schools aren't receiving an adequate education and that claim is definitely baseless because the system of public schools is still available. This program is completely voluntary. Any parent who sends their child to a private school with an opportunity scholarship and who is dissatisfied can immediately take their child out of the private school and put them back in public schools and another claim that is been made in this lawsuit is that the private schools that are a part of the program are allowed to discriminate in their admissions policies which is frankly absolutely baseless because private schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race by federal law school choice programs offer the highest level of accountability just as the parents are displeased with education or services that their children are receiving.

They simply leave and so I think that the accountability is built to school choice just by its very nature no one made the institution of justice. Imagine probably would not have gotten involved in defending with a lot of school choice program unless you thought you had a good chance of success.

Do you believe that North Carolina's opportunity scholarship program can withstand legal challenges and if so want fluently.

We were very confident, even if we have to take it all the way up to the North Carolina Supreme Court. We think will prevail and we will prevail and listing the preliminary injunction because we really want this program to keep its momentum and keep going while we fight it in the courts. He know that it may take a long time to actually get it resolved so it's very important that we immediately appeal the injunction and that's what were going to do you talk about them, about the future of this case and next steps. And also, what does it mean for the 4700 applicant waiting to hear if I have been accepted into the program and what would you say to those parents who were waiting to hear definitively whether or not to have opportunity to use these opportunity scholarship while unfortunately we've got over 4700 families that will have to be in limbo for an unknown period of time because the courts can take a very long time and that's why like I said before, were going to immediately appeal the preliminary injunction and that could move a bit quicker so our goal is to get that listed and then proceed with the rest of the lawsuit to the North Carolina Supreme Court if we need to, but as for the families. The program could be on hold for a couple of years, but we are absolutely fighting and were confident that ultimately were going to prevail, and I know since the engine I like going to give up there a lot of families out there is about a number of applications that were submitted in the number of people in the students that are waiting to hear there is a great deal of interest in this.

So we so much appreciate the work control or doing your involvement in this case and willingness to stand on behalf of these parents and argue for the opportunity scholarship grant program when they were nearly out of her this week, listeners go to learn more about the cases that we have been discussing today and about the Institute for Justice, I'm sure, and thank you so much for having me and thank you to other North Carolina organizations and your own that are promoting this program and anyone is interested can go to the Institute for Justice's website I J.ORT and broth on Facebook you can see some lovely videos of our clients and the really flirty thank you so much for being with us on family policy matters. This is been a very insightful discussion but again we so much appreciate the work that you all are doing the expertise that you're going to this issue and we are very hopeful and clear.

We will see a very similar result. Thank you so much family policy matters. Information and analysis, future North Carolina family policy Council join us weekly discussion on policy issues affecting the family.

If you have questions or comments. 919-0708 visit our website.1

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