Supreme Court: Voucher funding is unconstitutional

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(Baton Rouge – May 7, 2013) The State of Louisiana may not use funds dedicated to public education to pay the tuition for students in private and religious schools, the State Supreme Court ruled today.

“The state’s highest court affirmed what we believed all along,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. “Our constitution clearly states that public education’s Minimum Foundation Program is reserved for public schools and public school systems.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the constitution and for the rule of law,” Monaghan continued. “It is a rebuff to an administration that railroaded the voucher bill through the legislature. In today’s ruling, the court restated the simple fact that no governor and no legislature have the right to ride roughshod over the foundational principles of our government.”

The high court ruled that Act 2 of 2012 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 decision states that the resolution funding the MFP, SCR 99, was improperly adopted by the legislature and is therefore invalid. The resolution included language to pay for non-public education in private and religious schools, as well as the so-called “Course Choice” program.

The court did not rule on the educational merits of the programs, only on the constitutionality of the funding mechanism. The ruling leaves in question the future of a voucher scheme that enrolled nearly 5,000 students this year, and has already expanded to another 3,000 for the coming school year.

“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.”

The suit against the voucher scheme was first filed by the LFT on June 7 of last year. The LFT was joined in the suit by the Louisiana Association of Educators, 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.