Carolina Journal’s Barry Smith has the latest on the shameful legal challenge to North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program. 

Some members of local school boards are questioning the decision by the state school boards association to join a legal battle over vouchers for students from lower-income families. They also question whether the organization should be using membership dues, which come from local tax dollars, to finance the lawsuit.

Leanne Winner, director of government relations for the N.C. School Boards Association, said that the organization rarely takes legal action unless the concern is of direct interest to school boards across the state. She added that the association’s view is when a local school board sends its dollars to the statewide organization, the membership dues no longer should be considered public funding.

“We don’t believe it’s taxpayer money,” Winner said, likening the situation to a school board writing a check to Duke Energy to pay its power bill. “When it leaves that public entity, it is no longer public money,” she said.

Winner added that Duke Energy is not a state entity. Nor is the N.C. School Boards Association. “We’re a nonprofit 501(c)(3) [corporation],” she said.

Lisa Baldwin, a member of the Buncome County Board of Education, disagreed. “These are dollars that come from our county commissioners that have no strings attached,” Baldwin said. “They could have been spent in the classroom. Instead, they’re spent on a frivolous lawsuit that could help disadvantaged children.”

Winner said filing a lawsuit isn’t something that the state association takes lightly. Nor does it do it often.

“As an organization, when we see laws that are not constitutional in our belief, we challenge it,” Winner said. Winner pointed out another time the organization took legal action several years ago, when the General Assembly passed a law requiring children to have an eye exam before enrolling in kindergarten.

“If we believe something is unconstitutional and will be a detriment to educate children through the public schools, we feel that we have a duty to challenge it,” Winner said.

Winner said that 71 of the 115 local school boards in North Carolina — 62 percent — initially adopted resolutions supporting the initiation of a lawsuit against the vouchers, which supporters call Opportunity Scholarships. An additional school board later adopted a similar resolution, she said.

Winner said the organization’s board of directors had a lengthy discussion about the lawsuit and approved it unanimously.