Art Pope

North Carolina Judge Rules Right-Wing Voucher Program Unconstitutional

People in North Carolina have been living with – and resisting – a devastating right-wing assault on public institutions and the common good since a far-right takeover of state government in 2012, which was funded by Art Pope, a local businessman who became the state’s budget director.

Part of the right-wing assault has been on public schools and teachers. The 2013 state budget included $10 million for “Opportunity Scholarships” that would be sent to mostly unaccountable and mostly religious private schools. But today a state judge ruled that state lawmakers’ school voucher plan violates the North Carolina constitution.

North Carolina Policy Watch has the details:

In a stunning rebuke to state lawmakers’ efforts to bring school vouchers to North Carolina, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood today found the recently-enacted “Opportunity Scholarship Program” unconstitutional and permanently enjoined disbursement of state funds for that purpose.

“The General Assembly 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,” Hobgood said.

In his ruling, issued this morning from the bench, the judge broke down the program and detailed the many reasons why it failed constitutional muster:

This legislation unconstitutionally

1) 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;

2) appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose;

3) appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education;

4) creates a non-uniform system of education;

5) appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified;

6) fails to guard and maintain the rights of the people who privilege the education by siphoning money from the public schools in favor of private schools; and

7) allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.

NC Policy Watch reports that Judge Hobgood had issued a preliminary injunction against the program in February, but parents backed by the Koch-brothers-funded Institute for Justice appealed that order and the state Supreme Court overturned the injunction in May. But in today’s ruling, “Hobgood recognized the state’s obligation to provide a ‘sound basic education’ to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the [state] Supreme Court in its Leandro decision .”

“The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to low income parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk,” he said.

Hobgood noted that the private schools receiving the scholarships are 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.

The Judge also wrote, “It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound basic education in public school as mandated by the Leandro decision.”

And he rejected the budgetary sleight-of-hand engaged in by legislators to try to make the program pass constitutional muster:

The judge also made clear that he was not buying lawmakers’ argument that state funds were not funding the program.

This summer, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam pushed through an amendment to the voucher law that pulled $10 million out of the state’s General Fund to pay for the program. That budgetary maneuver allowed Stam to then readjust the public school budget back to what it would have been had school vouchers never existed.

As amended the voucher law stated that “scholarship grant funds awarded . . . to eligible students attending a non-public school shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.”

Nowhere in the state’s General Statutes is there any provision for scholarship grants to come from any source other than taxpayer funds, Hobgood noted.

“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,” he said.

“Follow the money,” the judge added. “The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

 

PFAW

Right Wing Targets 'Moral Mondays' Organizer

Right-wing groups and media are waging a concerted attack on Rev. William Barber, organizer of this weekend’s “Moral March” in Raleigh, North Carolina.

North Carolina’s politics lurched to the far right after multimillionaire Art Pope poured money into a far-right takeover of the state government.  A tidal wave of horrible legislation last year attacked voting rights, public education, health care, and unemployment insurance -- and raising taxes on poor families to give tax breaks to a handful of the state’s wealthiest people. Basically, if you want to see what unfettered Tea Party governance looks like, look at North Carolina.

In response, a huge statewide coalition led by Barber, the president of the state NAACP, organized “Moral Mondays” protests to draw attention to the legislature’s extremism. State GOP officials initially dismissed the movement, with one legislator deriding “Moron Mondays” and others blaming the protests on “outside agitators.” But the protests grew to thousands, with more than 900 people, the vast majority of them from North Carolina, being arrested.

The progressive Forward Together coalition drew tens of thousands of people to Raleigh this weekend for a “Moral March,” which kicked off a year of organizing and voter engagement. This progressive mobilization has generated excitement among progressive activists nationally, and has made Barber a target of the right wing.

In recent weeks, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have invited Sen. Tim Scott, Allen West, and Star Parker – all right-wing African Americans – to attack Barber for comments he made suggesting  that Scott is a ventriloquist dummy for the Tea Party.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s march, the state’s Republican Chairman Claude Pope slammed Barber for using "inflammatory and offensive" rhetoric. And Tami Fitzgerald from the North Carolina Values Coalition snarked, “The so-called Moral March on Raleigh is anything but moral. It is spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage.” I am not aware that Fitzgerald has raised moral objections to right-wing state officials’ attacks on poor families’ access to health care.

At a press conference after the March, Tea Party activist David Webb, a Fox and Breitbart contributor, badgered Barber about whether he owed Scott and other black conservatives an apology. No apology was forthcoming. The unruffled Barber said his job and calling are “to speak the truth about public policies, policies that hurt millions of people.” 

Barber said his critique was based on policy, not personality. “While some people may choose to get caught up on a metaphor,” Barber said, “the real indignation and upsetness should be over the regressive agenda” and over policies that are causing “real-life suffering and death.”

If folk want to get upset, get upset over the denying of Medicaid expansion, get upset over voting to reject unemployment benefits for laid off workers who are Republican, who are Democrat, who are black, who are white. Get upset over reduced access to public education and funding of it….and get upset over the attacks to turn back voting rights that were won through blood, sweat and tears.”

 

The Spirit Of Selma: Moral March In Raleigh, NC

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.

Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie.  In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values.  Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.

But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests.  Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.

On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state. 

Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.

One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”

You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.

How Big Money Bought North Carolina for Extremists

In the years since Citizens United, North Carolina has provided a clear example of what happens when a small number of corporate interests, allied with a far-right base, are allowed unbridled influence over elections.

James Crow, Jr., Esquire and the Moneyed Assault on Voting Rights

At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, Reverend Al Sharpton made the case that people of color are facing a new generation of Jim Crow-type laws.  “Jim Crow had a son,” Sharpton said, a son who writes voter suppression, Stand Your Ground, and stop-and-frisk laws.  His name?  “James Crow, Jr., Esquire.” 

At Rosa Park’s funeral in 2005, Sharpton made similar comments:

The one we’ve got to battle is James Crow, Jr., Esquire. He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name, he just marginalizes your existence.

A case in point of the slicker, more polished push for policy that disproportionately harms people of color is the assault on voting rights in North Carolina. The Institute for Southern Studies released the results of an investigation yesterday finding that mega-donor Art Pope has played an important, if largely hidden, role in making restrictive voting laws in the state a reality.  Whether through funding conservative think tanks disseminating lies about voter fraud or by financially backing Republican elected officials involved in pushing the sweeping anti-voter law, Pope’s influence in bringing about what The Nation described as “the country’s worst voter suppression law” is clear.

At PFAW, we often write about the danger of individual Americans’ voices being drowned out by the roar of moneyed interests in our democracy.  Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists can quietly help get Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws on the books.  Art Pope’s support of North Carolina’s draconian voting law shows one more example of why the struggle to protect individual voices and votes in a democracy being flooded by the money of wealthy special interests is an uphill battle – but a battle unquestionably worth fighting.

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