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Judge declares Louisiana vouchers unconstitutional

For the second time in a week, a judge has declared that Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide voucher program for private and religious schools violates the Louisiana Constitution. State District Judge Tim Kelley on Nov. 30 agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and other plaintiffs—including the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana School Boards Association and some 43 local school districts—that the state cannot use public funds from the Minimum Foundation Program to pay for school choices, including nonpublic schools, early graduation college scholarships, nonpublic online education or individual courses created by private providers.

"Today's ruling is a victory for the constitution and the rule of law," says LFT president Steve Monaghan. "It is also a victory for the nearly 700,000 children who depend on public schools for an education, and for local citizens who do not want their tax dollars diverted away from the uses they intended."

Earlier in the week, in a case from Tangipahoa Parish, a federal judge ruled that the voucher program conflicts with that parish's desegregation order. (See related story.)

Monaghan says he expects the voucher case will ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court, but he is confident the union's position will prevail. "We hope that we can quickly resolve this issue and then get to work in collaboration with the Legislature and the administration on true education reforms that will create excellent schools for all of the children of our state," he says.

Judge Kelley ruled that the voucher scheme violated Article VIII, Section 13(b), of the Louisiana Constitution, which states that the Minimum Foundation Program formula "shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems." He also ruled that the legislation unconstitutionally diverted funds raised by local school districts to pay for the vouchers.

In pushing the voucher scheme, Monaghan says, Gov. Jindal and his allies did a disservice to the 4,900 children who are now attending nonpublic schools on vouchers. It is unclear where those voucher recipients will attend school. "But that is the fault of the governor and his allies," he says. "Not only was the voucher program patently unconstitutional, but it placed children into schools without adequate oversight and with no assurance of quality instruction." [Louisiana Federation of Teachers]

December 3, 2012