A district judge has ruled Louisiana’s new voucher program is unconstitutional because of how the state funds it, leaving the education of 5,000 voucher students uncertain. Gov. Bobby Jindal will appeal the case directly to the state Supreme Court, said Institute for Justice attorney Arif Panju.
Approximately 380,000 students became eligible for program when it passed in spring 2012. It gave vouchers averaging $5,300 to students slated to attend public schools the state rated C, D, or F. Louisiana has one of the worst public school systems in the nation, as measured by high school dropout rates and standardized test scores.
District Judge Tim Kelley ruled it unconstitutional for state or local education taxes to enter private schools. The program amounts to 0.11 percent of the state’s annual $8 billion K-12 spending.
“Louisiana’s teachers union would rather focus on [the funding mechanism] than focus on the hundreds of schools in the state that are failing,” Panjou said. “They view it as a threat that parents will see better options for their children through this school choice program.”
Question of Legality
Kelley heard the case Wednesday through Friday, at first telling attorneys he would decide the case on paper briefs presented, then asking for closing arguments Friday. He viewed the case largely as one that depended on legal questions rather than testimony about how the program impacts families, Panju said.
“How sad that bureaucratic funding formulas and public employee unions take precedent over parents wanting to give their children the best education possible,” said Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
Kelley had earlier refused to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the voucher program as the lawsuit moved forward.
“We view this as strong grounds for appeal because the state of Louisiana has a host of educational options for parents that aren’t their city or parish public school,” Panjou said. “There’s no reason why [state funding] cannot fund student school choice scholarships.”
Image by Tormod Sandtorv.