La. high court to hear voucher case
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana’s top court next month will hear the state’s appeal of a Baton Rouge judge’s ruling that Louisiana’s expanded voucher program unconstitutionally divert public funds to private and parochial schools.
The state Supreme Court is scheduled to entertain oral arguments March 19 in New Orleans.
State District Judge Tim Kelley’s Nov. 30 ruling came at the end of a three-day trial of consolidated lawsuits, filed by Louisiana’s two largest teacher unions and the state’s school boards association, challenging the legality of Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 — both of the 2012 legislative session.
Act 2 is the so-called voucher bill, and SCR 99 is the Minimum Foundation Program resolution.
Public school aid in Louisiana goes through the MFP formula. This year, it provides some $3.4 billion in basic state aid for school operations and students statewide.
Under Act 2, students who attend public schools rated C, D or F under the state accountability system and who meet income rules can apply for state aid to attend private or parochial schools. The vouchers provide aid to cover tuition and mandatory fees at private and parochial schools. Those schools collect an average of $5,300 per student from the state.
The new expanded program began with the start of the school year in August. Before the new law, the state offered vouchers only to certain students in New Orleans.
Kelley agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana School Boards Association and ruled that Act 2 and SCR 99 unconstitutionally divert to nonpublic entities “MFP funds that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools.”
The judge also said the act and concurrent resolution unconstitutionally divert to nonpublic entities “local funds included in the MFP that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated” to public schools. Local funds refers to tax dollars.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has called Kelley’s ruling “a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education.” The governor said the decision “sadly ignores the rights of families who do not have the means necessary to escape failing schools.”
The lawsuits by the LFT, LAE and LSBA were filed against the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.