In A Victory for Public Education Judge Says NC School Vouchers Are Unconstitutional

For the past decade, Republicans have been on a tear to blatantly transfer taxpayer money directly to private enterprises without regard for the needs of the people. Whether it is privatizing Medicare, Social Security, social services, or education, Republicans have devised various schemes to appropriate taxpayer money to profit their donors; including churches Hell-bent on inculcating Christianity in private religious schools at the expense of public education.

One of the most important clauses in the U.S. Constitution is the General Welfare clause in Article I – section 8 that reads, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” According to the Founding Fathers and first four Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, taxes providing for the ‘general welfare’ were to provide housing, food, medical care, and education for the poor among other domestic programs. In fact, one of the authors of the Constitution, James Madison killed legislation giving taxpayer money to churches anxious to profit from pretending to provide for the people because the Founders believed the government should never, never ever, give money to churches for anything; including education.

Republicans believe America’s first four Presidents were completely wrong and in several states are regularly taking government money intended for public education and handing it directly to private Christian schools under the guise of vouchers for “charter schools,” a clear violation of the Constitution. In North Carolina last week, a judge finally struck down a Republican school voucher scam to transfer public school funding directly to private religious schools as patently unconstitutional, and elucidated why vouchers, charter schools, and private religious schools fail constitutional muster.

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The judge, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, identified the Republican legislation, “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” as a scam to “siphon money from the public schools in favor of private schools and allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.” The judge was not finished, and besides decrying the obscenity of school vouchers, he correctly identified the major flaw in charter schools; they have no obligation to teach anything. Hopefully, President Obama will pay attention and stop listening to charter advocates like education secretary Arne Duncan and an ever-growing cabal of school privatization advisors within his Administration.

Just a few of the reasons the judge gave for ruling school vouchers unconstitutional are: appropriates to private schools grades K-12, by use of funds which apparently have gone to the university system budget but which should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools, appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose, appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education, and appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.” In essence, the judge concluded that the North Carolina legislation “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.”

Republicans had included a statement in their voucher legislation they assumed would protect their religious privatization scam by stipulating that “scholarship grant funds awarded to eligible students attending a non-public school shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.” The Judge was not fooled and noted in his ruling that nowhere in the state’s General Statutes is there any provision for scholarship grants to come from any source other than taxpayer funds. He said, “If scholarship grants shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina, this court is at a complete loss to understand the source of those funds. Follow the money. The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

Judge Hobgood recognized, and reminded Republicans, that the state had an obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the Supreme Court in its Leandro decision . He said, “The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk.” The parents who demanded that taxpayers pay for their children’s private religious education were represented by a Koch brother-backed law firm, Institute for Justice, and contended they would be harmed if the court did not help implement the theft of public school money to profit private religious schools. Private schools that Judge Hobgood accurately noted received taxpayer dollars yet were “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time.” Whether the Judge realized it or not, he defined, quite accurately, what charter schools entail and why school vouchers are a scam and outright theft of taxpayer money meant for public education.

There has been an ongoing Justice Department, and other plaintiffs’, lawsuit targeting Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher privatization scam that records revealed multiple schools accepting school vouchers actually disclosed “discriminatory policies such as the legal right to expel gay and lesbian students as well as admitted to charging the state more in tuition for students who are not members of the private school’s sponsoring churches.” In fact, Jindal has thumbed his nose at the Constitution for years by continuing to steal taxpayer money intended for public schools to provide funding for private and charter religious schools. Of course, Jindal blames President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the Department of Justice portion of the lawsuits by claiming “This is shameful. President Obama and Attorney General Holder are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents.” These are parents that insist on taxpayers funding their children’s religious instruction, and if Jindal and the Republican legislature were not robbing public education funds, public schools would not be failing.

Republicans claim, ad nauseum, that they are the champions of the original intent of the Founding Fathers, and yet they have consistently opposed the concept that taxpayer dollars are meant to “provide for the general welfare of the people;” not churches, not private religious schools, and definitely not at the expense of public education. Although the Judge’s ruling was a defeat for school vouchers and Koch and Art Pope-backed privatization efforts, his portrayal of charter schools as “not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance, and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time” was priceless, and accurate.

This is not to say that there are no private religious, or charter schools, providing a decent education to their “customers,” there are. However, they are under no obligation to provide an education to prepare students to compete with public school students who are not indoctrinated with anti-science, bastardized history, and religious mythos. The Founding Fathers were specific that taxpayer money was to provide for, among other things, the general welfare of the people that included a sound public education; something Republicans have decided is the purview of private, for profit, enterprises that are more often than not religious schools stealing from taxpayers to inculcate students into the Christian religion.

 

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