Louisiana court denies injunction in state school voucher suit while legal challenges to program’s constitutionality moves forward
The Times-Picayune reports that District Judge Tim Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District, has ruled that he does not have jurisdiction to provide an injunction sought by opponents of Louisiana’s private school voucher program, saying his hands were tied by a state law that prohibits him from blocking the policy if that would create a deficit. State school Superintendent John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater submitted affidavits averring that an injunction would have that effect. As a result, Judge Kelley concluded that state law deprived him of jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief.
Judge Kelley made it clear that his ruling was not about the merits of the plaintiffs’ case, saying “It doesn’t eliminate any of your rights whatsoever.” The suit, brought by two statewide teachers’ associations and a substantial number of school boards, challenges both the voucher program and the formula used to calculate state financing of local schools, known as the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP).
Two key issues are at play in the voucher suit: whether providing private schools with money from the MFP violates the state constitution by redirecting those funds from public schools, and whether a last-minute vote setting the new MFP formula in place received enough support in the state House to carry the force of law.
In their affidavits, Superintendent White and Commissioner Rainwater both said that halting the voucher program and the distribution formula would essentially strip $3.4 billion in MFP funding from the Department of Education’s budget. Jimmy Faircloth, a private attorney who formerly served as Governor Jindal’s executive counsel and is now representing the state, the Department of Education, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that there was “just no question” that halting the program would cause a deficit for the Department.
Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the Louisiana Association of Educators, on the other hand, argued that preventing the state from spending money could not cause a deficit. Money for the MFP has already been sent to the Department of Education and an injunction would just prevent it from being distributed.
In cases where the Legislature does not approve a new funding formula, the money is distributed based on the formula used in the prior year. Because the size of the MFP has grown, using last year’s formula would actually leave a surplus of tens of millions of dollars in the Department of Education’s accounts, Blackwell said.
Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan, whose organization is one of the groups challenging the new law, said the plaintiffs are considering whether to appeal Judge Kelley’s decision.
Source: The Times-Picayune, 7/10/12, By Jeff Adelson
[Editor's Note: In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in newsstar.com, which reported that while one teachers union suit challenged the constitutionality of Louisiana’s statewide private school voucher program, another teachers’ group was polishing its suit before filing, and school boards were 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, the Louisiana Association of Educators, and possibly the Louisiana School Boards Association, argue that the state constitution does not permit the use of state funds for vouchers.]