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Judge says state voucher scheme is unconstitutional

(Baton Rouge – November 30, 2012) Spending funds dedicated to public education on tuition vouchers for private and religious schools is a violation of the Louisiana Constitution, a 19th Judicial District Judge ruled today.

Judge Tim Kelley agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and other plaintiffs that one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature education programs, Act 2 of the 2012 legislature, cannot use public education’s Minimum Foundation Program funds to pay for an array of school choices, including nonpublic schools, early graduation college scholarships, nonpublic online education or individual courses created by private providers.

“Today’s ruling was a victory for the constitution and the rule of law,” said LFT President Steve Monaghan following the verdict. “It was 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.”

Monaghan said that the ruling provides a lesson in civics. “No governor and no legislature can ride roughshod over our foundational governing principles,” he said.

The LFT president said the case will surely be ultimately decided by the State Supreme Court.

“We remain confident that our position will prevail,” he said. “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.”

In pushing the Act 2 voucher scheme, Monaghan said, Gov. Jindal and his allies did a disservice to the 4,900 children who are now attending non-public schools on vouchers.

“It is regrettable that there is now some confusion about where those children will attend school, Monaghan said. “But that is the fault of the governor and his allies. Not only was the voucher program patently unconstitutional, but it placed children into schools without adequate oversight and with no assurance of quality instruction.”

Judge Kelley made it clear that his ruling was based on public education’s “specific funding mechanism in the Constitution, and whether it can be used to direct funds to private enterprise or private schools.”

The judge ruled that the voucher scheme violated Article VIII, Section 13(b) of the Constitution, which states that the MFP 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.”

In addition, the judge ruled that Act 2 unconstitutionally diverts funds raised by local school districts to pay for the vouchers.

The judge denied two of the arguments put forth by LFT and the other plaintiffs in the case. He disagreed with LFT’s contention that the resolution that funds the MFP was improperly adopted. He also disagreed with the argument that Act 2 comprises more than one object, which would violate another section of the Constitution.

The LFT was joined in the suit by the Louisiana Association of Educator, the Louisiana School Boards Association and some 43 local school districts. Attorneys in the case were Larry Samuel representing the LFT, Bob Hammonds representing the LSBA and Brian Blackwell representing the LAE.

To read a copy of the judge's ruling, please click here.