Patterson Harkavy files suit challenging constitutionality of NC private school voucher scheme

Yesterday, Patterson Harkavy filed suit on behalf of seven North Carolina parents challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s private school voucher program. The suit is supported by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the National Education Association (NEA).

Officially known as “Opportunity Scholarships,” the North Carolina private school voucher program provides $4,200 per year to pay for part of the tuition at a private school. Private schools funded through the Program are subject to almost no meaningful requirements. They are not required to provide instruction on any academic subjects, can be operated by entities with no educational experience, can hire unqualified teachers, and have no obligation to improve student performance in any measurable way. Since the Program was first implemented, the state has failed to provide even the minimal oversight that the statute requires.

The voucher program has expanded dramatically since it was initially implemented in 2013. In the 2019-2020 school year, the State Education Assistance Authority provided 12,284 vouchers to private schools. Many participating schools openly admit to discriminating on the basis of religion, require students to sign statements affirming particular religious beliefs, and reserve the right to discipline students who fail to attend religious services or whose beliefs deviate from the school’s official religious doctrine. Schools are free to provide no education in non-sectarian subjects, and instead focus exclusively on inculcating religious beliefs. Many schools also discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and require students to maintain religious beliefs condemning homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender non-conformity.

The North Carolina State Constitution includes a bar against religious discrimination that does not appear in the U.S. Constitution: in North Carolina, no person shall “be subjected to discrimination by the State because of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Our state constitution also provides: “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” The complaint argues that the State violates these commands when it funds schools that discriminate on the basis of religion, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. Click here to view the complaint.