August 24 2012
Vicki E. Alger
More than 10,000 students applied to attend private schools this fall under Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, five times more than State Superintendent John White anticipated.
In April, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law Act 2, expanding New Orleans vouchers statewide. Under the expansion, low-income students attending Louisiana public schools rated C, D, or F by the Louisiana Department of Education may apply for scholarships to 125 participating private schools. In these schools, tuition averages $6,100. Louisiana spends an average of $10,600 for each public-schooled child.
Two teachers unions—the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators—and the Louisiana School Boards Association filed separate but consolidated lawsuits against the program, claiming allowing parents to spend public dollars at private schools is unconstitutional. That case is set to be heard in October.
But the unions wanted the program stopped until that case was decided. Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court refused, and allowed the failing schools voucher program to continue in the meantime. As EAGnews reported:
Louisiana’s high court Wednesday denied a request by the state’s teachers unions and public school boards to stop a new voucher program that will allow students to transfer from failing public schools to private and charter schools…The ruling affirms a lower court’s refusal to grant an injunction, and is a promising sign for school choice proponents as the state and its education establishment prepare for a hearing on the constitutionality of the voucher program set for October.
The decision means voucher students who would have attended public schools rated a C, D, or F by the Louisiana’s school accountability system will begin attending classes at better schools this month.
“The school year is already under way. It’s time to stop trying to prevent parents from making the choices they feel are right and start believing in the people closest to the students,” state Superintendent John White said in a statement…Parents of children in the Louisiana’s worst schools finally have options, and thousands are already taking advantage of their new freedom.
Two New Orleans parents, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the Alliance for School Choice have joined in the constitutional defense of the program. They are represented by the Institute for Justice, which has successfully defended school choice nationwide for decades.
“Louisiana’s program has the potential to be the second largest scholarship program in the United States, second only to Indiana’s statewide program,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dick Komer. “It is IJ’s mission to see that it isn’t killed.”
“It’s time to return our focus to the classroom and to our children. This decision will help our state to do that,” Landry said. “The number of Louisiana families that have applied for scholarships makes implementing this program an issue of moral responsibility.
Komer is optimistic the voucher program will continue even if ruled unconstitutional. “Legal challenges are limited to procedural and funding issues,” he said, “such that an adverse decision could be remedied by legislative action quickly, perhaps even without any interruption to the program.”