Ephesus won’t boot students after demise of vouchers

Ephesus won’t boot students after demise of vouchers
September 03
00:00 2014

Parents who have put their children in private school through a state voucher program find themselves at a crossroads after Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled that the voucher program violated the state’s constitution.

The Republican-led General Assembly pushed through the voucher program, earmarking $10 million of the 2013-2014 budget. Qualified families received $4,200 to offset the cost of a private school education. Hodgood cited many issues with the program in his ruling. Among them is that it “appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose” and “allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.”

Earlier this year, officials at Winston-Salem-based Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventists’s Ephesus Junior Academy were confident that the voucher program would increase its enrollment. Tuition at the academy, home to 20 students in grades first through eight, is only between $3,500 to $3,800, so the state voucher more than covered it.

Principal Joy Campbell said the ruling is disappointing.

Joy Campbell

Joy Campbell

“We do believe that parents should have a choice,” she said. “We are hoping that the decision will be reversed.”

Campbell said the students who did enroll with the vouchers won’t be booted now that their source of tuition is in limbo.

“We don’t want to penalize the parents for everything they did properly and timely. The children are here and we are not going to dismiss them,” she said. “We will work with what we have and hope the government and judges do what they are supposed to do.”

State Sen. Earline Parmon blames lawmakers for placing parents in an uncertain situation. She says the vouchers should have been halted until the judge’s ruling.

Sen. Earline Parmon

Sen. Earline Parmon

“I think it is the responsibility of the state leadership to let parents know at the point of applying that there was a possibility that they would not get the vouchers because of the pending court decision,” she said. “This shows irresponsibility and carelessness in dealing with the citizens who live in this state.”

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said an appeal is in the works. He said proponents of vouchers were not surprised by the ruling.



“We are more concerned with the damage that it has caused the 2,000 students at the more than 300 private schools,” he said.

Allison maintains the voucher program is important to families who lack the financial means to give their children the option of a private school education.

“We are hearing on a daily basis that they are really concerned and in dire straits. What we have seen is a joining of forces in many of the private schools across the state who are not willing to push the kids out,” he said. “There are real financial burdens for parents and schools to deal with. We have real families with serious needs in limbo.”

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

In a statement, North Carolina Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis, a Winston-Salem native who once taught in the local school system,  said “clearly, the idea of using taxpayer money to fund unaccountable private schools is unacceptable.” He added that the ruling is not a cure-all, but a step in solving public education problems.

“It’s a step in the right direction toward finding adequate funding for a high-quality public education for all students in North Carolina,” he said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators was among dozens of plaintiffs who challenged the voucher program last December in Wake County Superior Court.

The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, which had distributed the voucher funds, posted to its web site that “with this ruling the judge halted further implementation of the program and specifically suspended disbursement of scholarships under the program.”

Staff at the Authority said they could not answer any questions about the program or the ruling.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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