The Associated Press (AP) reports in The Washington Post that Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher program that uses tax dollars to send students to private schools has been ruled unconstitutional by a state judge who said it is improperly funded through the public school financing formula. Judge Tim Kelley sided with arguments presented by teachers’ unions and school boards seeking to shut down the voucher program and other changes that would funnel more money away from traditional public schools.
More than 4,900 students are enrolled in 117 private schools with taxpayer dollars, in one of the largest voucher programs in the nation.
The judge said the method the Jindal administration, state education leaders, and lawmakers used to pay for the voucher program violates state constitutional provisions governing the annual education funding formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP. “The MFP was set up for students attending public elementary and secondary schools and was never meant to be diverted to private educational providers,” Kelley wrote in a 39-page ruling.
Superintendent of Education John White said the state will appeal the ruling. Jindal did not immediately comment.
“We believe that while his decision was very thoughtful, it’s in error and that it’s not consistent with the interpretation of the Louisiana Constitution,” said Bill Maurer, a lawyer representing two parents with children in the voucher program and two pro-voucher groups. Maurer said he did not expect Kelley’s ruling to immediately force voucher students from their private schools, because Kelley did not issue an injunction against the program.
It was the second legal setback this week for the voucher program that Jindal pushed through the Legislature this year as part of a sweeping education system overhaul. In the same week as this ruling, a federal judge halted the voucher program in one Louisiana parish, saying it conflicts with a decades-old desegregation case.
Source: The Washington Post, 11/30/12, By AP
[Editor's Note: Scott M. Richard, Executive Director for the Louisiana School Boards Association, has issued the following press release:
"On behalf of the Louisiana School Boards Association and 43 public school boards, we applaud the decision rendered today by Judge Kelley.
"LSBA Legal Counsel Bob Hammonds clearly conveyed the issues for the court as to the unconstitutionality of the flawed state legislation that siphoned public dollars away from the state’s funding formula for public education.
"Public tax dollars dedicated to public education should have never been diverted to private entities; and, the Louisiana Constitution has been upheld on behalf of Louisiana’s almost 700,000 public school children."
In November 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article by the AP in The Times-Picayune, which reported on the federal judge's decision regarding the conflict between the voucher program and an existing desegregation order mentioned in the above article. Earlier in November 2012, Legal Clips summarized another article by the AP in The Times-Picayune, which reported how the Tangipahoa Parish school system argued 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 was telling a federal district court that the law affects its ability to comply with orders in the 47-year-old federal desegregation case.
Articles providing additional background on the Louisiana voucher program were summarized by Legal Clips in August 2012, July 2012, June 2012, again in June 2012, April 2012, and again in April 2012.]