Teacher groups file lawsuit over private school vouchers

by: Torie Wells Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Two teacher groups in North Carolina are suing the state over changes in the state budget.

Eyewitness News has a copy of the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Wake County against the state.

It was filed by educational leaders across the state, including leaders from the North Carolina Association of Educators. The lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of the private school vouchers or opportunity scholarships passed by the General Assembly. They are set to go into effect next school year to give some families public money to use at private schools.

"I'm very hopeful that the courts will see it on our favor and decide this is unconstitutional," said Judy Chambers, from Charlotte.

Chambers is a taxpayer in Mecklenburg County. Her daughter goes to public schools and her father was civil rights champion Julius Chambers. She said all of that drove her to put her name next to 24 others on a lawsuit against the state over a new voucher program. It was filed in Wake County Wednesday morning.

Most of the complainants are leaders in education.

"It takes the money directly from the school system and gives it away," said Chambers.

The vouchers -- or opportunity scholarships -- will give some low-income families up to $4,200 next school year to use at a private school. Some lawmakers said it is aimed at giving families more options.

The lawsuit says the program is unconstitutional, that it goes against the state's duty to provide uniform, free education, that it undermines public school resources and has no standards or accountability.

"Private schools are not held to the same standards that public schools are," said Charles Smith, President of the local North Carolina Association of Educators, or NCAE.

NCAE and the North Carolina Justice Center helped sponsor the lawsuit. They hope that the court stops the program.

"The constitution plainly says that North Carolina is to fund public education. Private schools are not public education," said Smith.

N.C. State Rep. Paul Stam helped write the opportunity scholarship program. He says the money for vouchers was never allocated to public schools to begin with.

“Children are not all the same, schools are not all the same. What works for one child is not necessarily going to work for another. Parents need more choices," said Stam, a Republican from Wake County.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) issued the following joint statement Wednesday in response to the lawsuit:

"Not only are these left-wing interest groups fighting every attempt to improve public education, they now want to trap underprivileged and disabled children in low-performing schools where they will continue to fall behind their peers. Their shameful and defeatist mission will only hurt these students and our state."

Berger and Tillis noted that 16 other states plus the District of Columbia have similar, successful programs. They said the meritless lawsuit is the latest example of liberal special interests abusing the legal system to try to erase their electoral losses at the hands of the voters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.