Two of Jindal's top bills before state Supreme Court today

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme

Court on Tuesday began reviewing the constitutionality of two

centerpieces of Gov.

Bobby Jindal's 2012 legislative agenda: the expanded school

voucher program and a measure to change retirement plans for future

rank-and-file state workers.

State judges in Baton Rouge found both

unconstitutional on technical grounds. The voucher program was found


because money for it came from the "Minimum Foundation Program"

formula that provides state money to public school systems,

a judge found. Another judge found that the retirement program

violated the state constitution because it was passed by simple

majorities rather than two-thirds votes.

The justices did not say Tuesday when they will rule, but they had been asked to fast-track the retirement case because it

is scheduled to affect people hired after July 1. It was put on their docket so fast that they hadn't had time to read the

legal briefs filed with the court.

During arguments over the voucher program, which came first, several justices read aloud the state Constitution's statement

that money from the MFP shall be used for public elementary and secondary schools.

"How do you get around the constitutional requirement that it has to be for public education?" Justice Jeannette T. Knoll

asked Jimmy Faircloth, a private attorney working for the state. She read the section and rephrased her question: "What is

your argument in the face of that?"

Faircloth said the requirement was met when

the state allocated money to city and parish school systems. Other

schools that

are not part of those systems, such as a state school for the

blind and one for arts and sciences, already get money under

the program, he said. Those are public schools, but the state also

provides money for textbooks at private and parochial schools.

The voucher program started in New Orleans

in 2008, but the Legislature didn't use MFP money for it, as it did when

the legislature

expanded the program statewide this year for lower-income students

at schools with a state rating of C, D or F. Such schools

make up 63 percent of Louisiana's 1,303 public schools.

The state is paying about $25 million in

tuition and fees this year for more than 4,900 students at 117 private

or parochial

schools. Names such as St. Alphonsus School, New Orleans Adventist

Academy, Conquering Word Christian Academy, and New Orleans

Jewish Day School make it clear that more than 100 of them are

religious schools.

Zinnetta Martin, 36, who works in accounts receivable at a workers compensation company in Baton Rouge, was among people who

watched the hearing from an overflow courtroom. She said she used the program to move her children, Reagan Preston, 8, and

Robert Preston, 11, from Greenbrier Elementary to Hosanna Christian Academy. Reagan was doing well but Robert had flunked

the language section of the standardized test that Louisiana uses to decide whether children move up a grade, she said.

Robert is doing much better, she said: "He's combining complete full sentences."

Hosanna's website says it's affiliated with Hosanna Assembly of God. "I'm Catholic. I think it's more Methodist. But it works

out fine," Martin said. "They're really enjoying learning about the Bible."

State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled Nov.

30 that both the voucher law and the funding formula are

unconstitutional for two

reasons: They give private and parochial schools money required by

the state constitution to go to public schools, and they

divert tax money from local school districts.

Faircloth said the local systems don't lose any money because the state cannot allocate their taxes.

Robert Hammonds, representing several school

boards, said the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education did


payments to local school boards by $13 million of the $25 million

that went to vouchers. "They say, 'We can't get your money.

But we can reduce payments to the local system by the same

amount,'" he told the justices.

Kelley didn't rule on whether the state could spend other money on private school tuition, as it did in New Orleans from 2008

through the last school year.

"What's to prevent BESE from ... creating a pool outside the Minimum Foundation Program?" Justice John Weimer asked.

The board wasn't given that choice, Faircloth said.

Scott Richard of the Louisiana School Boards Association said afterward that he couldn't tell from the justices' questions

which way they were leaning. "And I would not presume to predict their verdict," he said.

The retirement bill calls for employees

hired after July 1 to get investment accounts rather than monthly

retirement payments

based on salary and years of employment. Unlike people with

traditional 401(k) plans, Louisiana's employees would never lose

money for investment slumps.

The switch would apply to rank-and-file state employees and university staff — not to law enforcement or other hazardous-duty

workers nor to public school employees.

Supporters say it would rein in the costs of retirement programs that are billions of dollars short of the money they'll need

to pay for all benefits promised. Opponents said the new investment account wouldn't give state workers enough of a safety


Judge William Morvant's ruling against the plan hinged on the Jindal administration's use of an outside analyst who predicted

big savings when the Legislature's retirement analyst said the new plan could be more expensive than the present system.

A two-thirds majority vote is needed for bills that will increase costs.

Lawmakers could decide which analysis to use because the Constitution describes the legislative auditor as "a fiscal adviser"

rather than "the fiscal adviser," Skip Phillips, a private attorney working for the state, told the justices.

They can choose among analysts when voting

on the plan itself but the auditor's "note" controls whether a majority

or a two-thirds

vote is needed, said Robert Klausner, representing the State

Retired Employees Association.