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May 9, 2013

On May 7, 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court declared that state’s voucher program unconstitutional under the state constitution. The plaintiffs, in Louisiana Federation of Teachers, et al. v. State, challenged a senate resolution and Act 2, both passed during the 2012 legislative session.

Louisiana calls their vouchers the “Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program,” a misnomer commonly referred to as “the voucher program.” The new legislation required transfer of funds that would have gone to K-12 public schools, instead, to cyber (“online” or “virtual”) schools, parents who choose home schooling, “postsecondary institutions” (not colleges and universities), and private and parochial schools, and to corporations offering vocational or technical courses.

The court explained that “This court is constitutionally obligated to address these issues, for it is the role of the judiciary to determine the meaning and effect of the constitution. … The court’s role is to evaluate the…constitution to determine whether the matters addressed by the legislature comply with the relevant constitutional provisions….”

The Louisiana Constitution, in Article VIII, Section 13(B), requires the state to annually develop and adopt a formula to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public K-12 schools, as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.

After examining the record, the legislation, and the constitutional provisions, the state’s supreme court found that, for funds dedicated to public education, the state constitution prohibits expending those funds on nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities. And, that’s exactly what the senate resolution and Act 2 did.

Writing for the court, Justice John Weimer stated in part, “The state funds approved through the unique Minimum Foundation Program process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution.” (emphasis added)

As reported by a pro-voucher organization, the Louisiana State Superintendent, John White, who is also pro-voucher, commented that while he had not yet read the opinion (He was on Capitol Hill testifying before the House Committee on Education.), he understands the ruling to say, “it’s not that the program itself is unconstitutional, but that the funding needs to come from somewhere else.” White added that, “we will find funding and keep fighting this.”

Moreover, as reported by the Associated Press, Governor Jindal had seen this voucher program as a national model that he wanted to promote in his position as head of the Republican Governor's Association.

How this struggle unfolds in Louisiana bears watching, in part because it may indicate proposals and strategies that pro-voucher advocates will use in other states.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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