Blog: The Educated Reporter

Louisiana Voucher Law Coverage

UPDATE: Jindal’s expanded voucher program was ruled unconstitutional by State District Judge Tim Kelley. He decided Friday afternoon the program undermined state law by using public money to send eligible public school students to private and parochial schools.

Kelly found that both laws challenged by the plaintiffs–Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99–unlawfully divert public funds. Read below for EWA’s primer on the case and the local (and national) papers covering the story.

One of the most controversial education initiatives to have emerged from states in recent years is Act 2 in Louisiana, approved this year under school choice champion Gov. Bobby Jindal.

But the law—which ushered in a bevy of new reforms that included opening up public tax dollars for students to attend private and parochial schools statewide—is being challenged in court on the grounds that it violates the state constitution. 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. The Judge hearing the case, State District Court Judge Tim Kelley, is expected to make a decision Friday afternoon.

At issue is how the education overhaul was introduced to the legislature. The plaintiffs charge Act 2 violated the constitution by “bundling” so many changes in one bill that it stifled dissent among lawmakers who took issues with certain provisions. “Legislators were given little information about the bill, and appeared intimidated into passing it without adequate debate and oversight,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan in a public statement. When the suit was filed in June of this year, Gov. Jindal said, “Holding up these reforms in court will only deny parents and students the opportunity to escape failing schools. Our kids do not get a second chance to grow up.”

So far 5,000 students have participated in the program, which equips them with public tuition dollars to attend non-public schools if their current schools have a C, D, or F letter grade and if their family income is below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Students can also gain access to public schools with an A or B grade. The state pays for the student’s private school tuition and fees up to the average cost of the state’s share of public education per pupil.

Kelley will also have to consider the constitutionality of Senate Concurrent Resolution 99. The Senate act—which altered school spending formulas—was supposed to pass with 53 votes, the plaintiffs say. It passed with only 51 votes.

Photo source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Articles that offer more detail on this case

Blow Dealt to School Voucher Program:

“The voucher program was funded by a block-grant program which Judge Kelley ruled is restricted by the constitution to funding only public schools.

“Nowhere was it mandated that funds from [the block-grant program]…be provided for an alternative education beyond what the Louisiana education system was set up for,” he wrote. The state can legally fund vouchers, but the funding “must come from some other portion of the general budget,” Judge Kelley said.” (Stephanie Banchero and Jack Nicas, The Wall Street Journal)

Jindal Voucher Overhaul Unconstitutionally Diverts Public Funds to Private Schools, Judge Rules:

“The ruling, which came almost immediately after a three-day long court hearing, came in two parts.

The first part of Judge Tim Kelley’s ruling declared that the law passed to implement the controversial program — Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 — was done in a valid and constitutional manner.

He also ruled Act 2 — the voucher overhaul — did not violate the ’single object’ requirement of the state constitution allowing for a bill to only effect one policy at a time.

But in the second part of his ruling, Kelley declared the diversion of funds from the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) – the formula under which per pupil public education funds are calculated — to private entities was unconstitutional.” (Lauren McGaughy, The Times Picayune)

Judge Rules Vouchers are Unconstitutional:

“Kelley said that both Act 2 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 unlawfully divert tax dollars for nonpublic educational purposes.” (Joe Gyan Jr., The Advocate) 

Baton Rouge’s WAFB reports an appeal by the state is expected.

Judge in Louisiana Voucher Trial to Rule This Afternoon:

“A decision will be made Friday afternoon whether Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s April education overhaul was unconstitutional. Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial Court Judge Tim Kelley indicated Friday morning after closing remarks he would recess to consider his decision.

The judge said he would adjourn the court until 2:00 p.m. to review testimony by witnesses and the lawyers’ closing remarks to ensure he was ‘comfortable with the decision I anticipate making.’” (Lauren McGaughy, The Times Picayune)

Louisiana School Choice Trial: Day 2:

“State District Court Judge Tim Kelley concluded the day’s proceedings by saying he’ll hear closing arguments Friday morning, then decide by early afternoon whether he can render his decision. He cautioned that, since so many issues had been raised during the trial, he might require additional written briefs from the parties before handing down his ruling.” (Sue Lincoln, Southern Education Desk)

Judge to Rule Friday in Voucher Trial:

“A New Orleans mother of six testified Thursday that, if not for the state’s voucher program, she would not have been financially able to rescue her youngest child from a failing Orleans Parish public school in 2008 and move him to a parochial school.

Valerie Evans, the final witness in the trial, also said she will not be able to afford the $4,300-plus tuition to continue sending her 11-year-old son to Resurrection of Our Lord Catholic School in New Orleans if state District Judge Tim Kelley strikes down the voucher program.” (Joe Gyan Jr., The Advocate)

Teachers Suing Over Jindal Vouchers:

“’Act 2 and SCR 99 are unconstitutional because they violate … the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 by diverting, to non-public schools and other non-public entities, funds that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools to insure a minimum foundation of education in those public elementary and secondary schools,’ the LAE suit contends.” (Joe Gyan Jr., The Advocate)