July 18 2012
Vicki E. Alger
More than 10,000 students applied for private-school scholarships under Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, five times more than anticipated by State Superintendent of Education John White.
In April Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law Act 2 that expanded Louisiana’s Student Scholarships for Excellence Program, originally a 2,300 student New Orleans program, to a statewide program. Under the expansion, low-income students statewide attending public schools rated C, D or F may apply for scholarships to one of 125 participating private schools where tuition averages $6,100, $4,500 less that the average Louisiana per-pupil public-school expenditure of $10,600.
Meanwhile, two teachers unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, as well as the Louisiana School Boards Association filed separate but consolidated lawsuits against the program claiming it unconstitutionally funds private school with public dollars.
Two New Orleans parents, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the Alliance for School Choice responded by joining the defense, represented by the Institute for Justice, which has successfully defended school choice programs across the country for decades.
Referring to the state school board and the teachers unions, Black Alliance for Educational Options President Kenneth Campbell, said, “Those folks are not concerned about the education of children. Make no mistake about it. It’s about money, and it’s about who controls the money.” (Starting at 1:41 minutes.)
While a trial date on the constitutionality of the program is still pending, the LFT, LAE, and LSBA attempted to halt the program on procedural grounds arguing that the voucher program is illegally funded through the state’s public school Minimum Foundation Program financing formula, and that this formula did not get the constitutionally required number of votes in the House in June.
Earlier this month Baton Rouge’s State District Judge Tim Kelley rejected the unions and school board’s arguments, allowing the program to continue while the legal battle over its constitutionality continues.
IJ attorney Bill Maurer said this “decision is a significant victory for kids trapped in inadequate public schools in Louisiana…It allows parents and children consigned to underperforming and failing schools to access alternatives without having to wait for the courts to come to a final conclusion in the case. For students receiving an inadequate education in public schools, the decision means that they do not have to wait to have a chance at a quality education.”