Friday, January 17, 2020
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Judge finds Louisiana's voucher law unconstitutional

About 4,900 Louisiana students who are currently paying for tuition at private and parochial schools with public tax dollars may eventually have to find another way to pay for private school.

State Judge Tim Kelley said the state’s new voucher law, a piece of reform legislation advanced by Gov. Bobby Jindal, improperly diverts money allocated through Louisiana’s public school funding formula to private schools, WAFB (CBS affiliate) reports. He also said it unconstitutionally diverts local tax dollars to private schools.

We reported in August that even prominent religious leaders found the voucher program troubling. However, Gov. Jindal’s education reform legislation had strong backing from Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state superintendent.

“Today’s ruling is wrong headed and 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 New Orleans Times-Picayune quoted the governor as saying in a statement. “That opportunity is a chance that every child deserves and we will continue the fight to give it to them.

“The opinion sadly ignores the rights of families who do not have the means necessary to escape failing schools,” he continued. “On behalf of the citizens that cast their votes for reform, the parents who want more choices, and the kids who deserve a chance, we will appeal today’s decision, and I’m confident we will prevail. This ruling changes nothing for the students currently in the program. All along, we expected this to be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court.”

And that’s exactly where the voucher program appears to be headed. The suit was brought by various teacher groups, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana Association of Educators, the state affiliates of the two largest national teachers unions. Several local school boards also joined the suit.

The issue was not so much the establishment of a scholarship program that would provide vouchers for Louisiana students to attend private schools but rather the manner in which the bill made its way through the state legislature.

Plaintiffs said the part of the voucher overhaul law known as Act 2 effectively bundled so many changes into one bill that it violated the state’s constitutional provision that requires a bill to affect no more than one policy at a time. Another problem here was that a companion bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, was supposed to pass with 53 votes, according to the plaintiffs, but it passed with only 51. Judge Kelley had no issue with either complaint as far as the state constitution was concerned.

However, in the second part of his ruling, Judge Kelley ruled that the diversion of funds from the Minimum Foundation Program—the formula used for calculating per pupil spending—to private entities was unconstitutional.

The law provides public tuition dollars to attend non-public schools if a student’s current school has a C, D, or F letter grade and if his or her family income is below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Students can also attend public schools with an A or B grade.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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