Louisiana district cites state voucher law as reason for difficulty in complying with federal desegregation orders
According to an Associated Press (AP) report in The Times-Picayune, the Tangipahoa Parish school system argues that Louisiana’s new voucher law, which pays private school tuition for some lower-income students from low-performing schools, diverts state money from the local school district. As a result, the system is telling a federal district court that the law affects its ability to comply with orders in the 47-year-old federal desegregation case. Those orders include construction of four elementary schools and the continuation of magnet school programs.
The new statewide voucher program provides state-funded private school tuition for students from low- to moderate-income families who would otherwise attend a public school graded with a C, D or F by the state. More than 4,900 students are taking advantage of it in the current school year.
The court has ordered Louisiana’s education chief John White and the state board of education to appear in court on October 30, 2012. Some in the education establishment are unhappy because the money going to private schools would ordinarily go to local public school districts. In a lawsuit, two teachers’ unions and dozens of local school boards argue it is improper to pay for the programs through the state’s public school funding formula, and they claim lawmakers did not follow the process for passing laws. That state court lawsuit is set to be heard November 28, 2012.
The federal desegregation suit involving Tangipahoa is one of several dating back to the civil rights era, resulting in continuing federal court oversight of some local systems. Tangipahoa officials said in court filings that the voucher program would divert a share of the money the financially strapped Tangipahoa system usually gets through the state distribution formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program.
According to Tangipahoa officials, the voucher program’s funneling of state funds to private schools hampers their ability to comply with court orders regarding student assignments and facilities so the system could eventually be free of federal oversight. The federal court order calls for state education officials to show why the court should not block further implementation of the part of the voucher law that affects funding for the Tangipahoa system and “commence full Minimum Foundation Program funding to the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.”
Source: The Times-Picayune, 10/23/12, By AP
[Editor's Note: For voucher opponents, there may be an unintended consequence of the voucher law that could result in being the vehicle for blocking implementation of the program. In July 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Times-Picayune, which reported that Judge Tim Kelley, state court judge from the 19th Judicial District, had ruled that he did 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 Superintendent John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater submitted affidavits averring that an injunction would have had that effect. As a result, Judge Kelley concluded that state law deprived him of jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief.]