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North Carolina court to hear suit on school choice

Today, the civil liberties law firm, the Institute for Justice (IJ) will argue in North Carolina state court for the ability for parents to send their children to the school of their choice. What is often left up as a lottery system for students to get the best education in the government school system, many parents want the choice to send their children to private schools that are more in line with their values. A law was passed in 2013 enabling North Carolina parents the right to do just that, however opponents have filed lawsuits challenging the law.

At stake is $4,200 per student of taxpayer money instead of the normal cost of $8,400 per student through the government school system. Parents would be able to take the $4,200 to go toward the tuition to the school of their choice. The law only will affect an estimate 2,400 students as it only affects low to middle income families meeting certain criteria. For example a student could qualify under the law who lives in a household where the family’s annual gross income does not exceed the amount required for the student to qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program (i.e. $43,568 for a household of 4).

Opportunity Scholarships, as they are known in North Carolina, is a program that will begin for the 2014-2015 school year. The North Carolina School Boards Association is against allowing students the ability to choose their school under the Opportunity Scholarships law and is challenging it in court. Separately, the North Carolina Association of Educators is arguing in another lawsuit against the law that the law, in effect, is a voucher program which they claim violates North Carolina's state constitution where is states that taxpayer money should be used exclusively for running "a uniform system of free public schools."

Unfortunately for those not supportive of school choice, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld past cases trying to prevent school choice in other states noting that North Carolina's Constitution may be superceded. Both tax credits and vouchers are school choice options for North Carolina. The North Carolina Constitution does not have a Blaine Amendment or a Compelled Support Clause and state cases look to federal Establishment Clause precedent. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld school choice programs under the federal Constitution.

IJ wrote last week in the filed lawsuit, "Despite plaintiffs' efforts to cast this program as one created for the benefit of unaccountable private schools, this case is really about the plaintiffs' efforts to force the parents' children to remain in public schools with which the parents are dissatisfied."

Libertarians have a long and consistent history supportive of school choice. The Libertarian Party's platform includes a section on education reading:

Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education."

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