Nearly 8,000 kids are suddenly uncertain about where they will attend school this fall now that the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled 6-1 the state’s voucher program is unconstitutional.
Because the justices ruled against how the program is funded, state lawmakers can vote to fund the program directly rather than through the public school fund, making vouchers once more constitutional before fall. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has previously promised to call a special session of the state legislature to do just that if the state Supreme Court ruled this way.
“This ruling means that the Scholarship Program is alive and well,” Jindal said in a statement yesterday. “We’re disappointed the funding mechanism was rejected, but we are committed to making sure this program continues and we will fund it through the budget. The bottom line is that our kids only get one chance to grow up and we are committed to making sure choice is alive and families can send their children to the school of their choice.”
State funds designated for public schools cannot go to private schools, wrote Justice John Weimer in the majority opinion.
“While the Supreme Court did rule against the funding source, we believe [its] ruling on the program itself validates what we’ve been saying all along–this program is lawful,” said Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. “We are confident that the program will remain intact in Louisiana.”
More than 12,000 students applied for vouchers this spring for the first round of applications, with another round scheduled for next week. Louisiana private schools can hardly keep up with the demand for seats in a state that has among the lowest achievement in the country.
Families Demand Options
Louisiana’s two-year-old voucher program was set to be one of the biggest in the country: Families statewide were eligible if their children were zoned from one of the state’s plentiful D or F-rated schools, and if their income was below about $63,000 for a family of four.
“Without this program, my son Gabriel would be forced back into an unsafe school where there’s very little education occurring,” said Valerie Evans, a voucher mom who participated in the court case. “Today’s decision does not change my desire to fight for that education, even if it means I have to go to the Legislature each year to ask them to fund the education for my child.”
The vouchers cost taxpayers an average of $3,000 less per student than public schools. In early May, Jindal noted that third graders who received vouchers had increased their math proficiency rate by 23 percentage points, compared to a 2-point increase statewide. The English increase was 12 points for voucher students and 3 points statewide.
A March survey of voucher parents showed 92 percent “very satisfied” with the program and 94 percent “very satisfied” with their children’s academic progress.
Image by Derek Bridges.