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Judge To Rule On Legality Of Private School Voucher Program

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 After hearing lengthy arguments on Tuesday, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood says he will make a ruling on the legality of the state's private school voucher program Thursday morning.

The program, also known as Opportunity Scholarships, uses taxpayer dollars to help low-income families send their children to private schools. The annual grants go up to $4,200 per student.

Many school boards, as well as taxpayer and teacher groups, are challenging the vouchers. They argue it's unconstitutional to use public money for private schools, especially when those schools discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same academic standards or accountability of public schools.

Rodney Ellis, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says the $10 million set aside for the program should go toward cash-strapped public schools instead.

“If they invested that money into public schools, then, right now, our schools that are struggling to provide textbooks to students, that are struggling to maintain quality educators in the school buildings, all of these issues could be addressed,” he said.

Supporters of the vouchers argue that they're giving families more school choice and that the constitution does not prohibit the program from continuing.

“Middle class and wealthier parents have always had ability and the means to choose to send their children to either to a public school or private school, this allows lower-income parents to make that same choice,” said Steve Martin, an attorney defending the vouchers.

Martin says there would be a great deal of chaos among schools and families if Judge Hobgood ruled the program unconstitutional.

“We are dealing with families who have chosen to go to a private school, they’ve received a voucher for that, they’ve identified it, they’ve matched themselves up, they have a private school that’s accepting them,” Martin said. “And they have children that are ready and expecting to go to private school probably starting next week.” 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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