Louisiana facing suits from teachers unions and state school board association over school voucher law
Thenewsstar.com reports that while one teachers union suit challenges the constitutionality of Louisiana’s statewide private school voucher program, another teachers’ group is polishing its suit before filing, and school boards are considering filing a third lawsuit in the next few weeks. The focus of each of these legal actions is the state’s school voucher law, Act 2. In particular, whether the Louisiana Constitution allows state funding, specifically funding that for years has constitutionally been funneled to public schools, to be used to fund vouchers for students to switch from public to private and parochial schools.
The organizations behind these suits, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), and possibly the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), argue that the state constitution does not permit the use of state funds for vouchers. Governor Jindal’s administration, on the other hand, insists the constitution does allow such use. According to Aaron Baer, Jindal’s assistant communications director, changes from the 1921 constitution, which specifically prohibited public funds going to private schools, to wording in the 1974 constitution, which refers to funding education for the children of the state, permit state funding of private school vouchers.
“The change replaced the words ‘funds for public education’ to ‘funds for the education of the school children in Louisiana,’” Baer said. “In fact, Article VIII Section 1 reads, ‘The legislature shall provide for the education of the people of the state and shall establish and maintain a public educational system,’” he added. “That is exactly what the Legislature did in passing Governor Jindal’s bold and transformative reforms.”
Attorneys for the LTF, LAE, and LSBA contend: “The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or its successor, shall annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program [MFP] of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.” They argue MFP money is to go to “parish and city school systems,” not private and parochial schools.
LSBA Executive Director Carolyn Wooten said her organization is currently polling member school boards to determine if there is enough support to file a lawsuit against Act 2, which “involves funding, separation of church and state and the constitutionality of giving public money to private schools. That’s what we’re focusing on.” “We’re gathering information,” she said. “Letters went out on Monday and we’re giving them until the 22nd to respond. Decisions will be made board-by-board.” Act 2 is targeted because it “is going to affect school boards more than Act 1,” Wooten said.
The LFT is also challenging Act 1 and Act 2 as violating the constitutional provision that each piece of legislation should have one object. The LFT maintains that the bills that became Act 1 and Act 2 have several different objects wrapped into one bill. Wooten said about 14 school systems already have agreed with filing suit on Act 2 and more responses are expected early next week.
However, Suzanne Harris, executive director of the Association of Professional Educators of Louisiana (APEL), pointed out that not filing a lawsuit doesn’t mean that the members are happy with the changes made in the governor’s education package. Harris said, “We’re working hard to help teachers be successful, regardless of what policies are in place.” APEL “did not support or oppose any of the legislation,” she said, but it did sit in every committee meeting and report back to members what was happening. “Our teachers are very independent thinkers,” Harris said. “We have a very diverse membership. For us to file a lawsuit when it wouldn’t reflect all of our membership would be ridiculous.”
Source: thenewsstar.com, 6/17/12, By Mike Hasten
[Editor's Note: In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Times-Picayune, which reported on the LFT's suit challenging the education overhaul Governor Jindal signed in April 2012. The LFT argues that the courts should strike down tenure and other personnel changes and a statewide program that will use the public school financing formula to finance private school tuition grants through vouchers.]