Judge challenges state student voucher program

By By Nichole Osinski / American Press

A federal judge’s ruling on the state’s school voucher program Monday applies only in Tangipahoa Parish. But teacher unions

and several school boards hope a separate court case begun Wednesday will end the program statewide.

The judge said the program — which allows certain students in low-performing public schools to attend private schools free

of charge — conflicts with federal desegregation guidelines for schools in the parish.

Arguments began Wednesday in a lawsuit

filed earlier this year by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the

Louisiana Association

of Educators and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

The unions and 43 school boards question the constitutionality of the voucher initiative, called the Louisiana Scholarship

Program; the allocation of funding to private schools; and the process by which the law was passed.

Jefferson Davis Parish School

Superintendent David Clayton said Tuesday that he agreed with the

Tangipahoa ruling and that

the loss of Minimum Foundation Program money could lead to

cutbacks in school districts. The state uses the MFP to allocate

funding to secondary and elementary schools.

“Depending on the concentration in grade levels and schools of the student numbers leaving on scholarship, it is not so easy

to lay off a teacher, eliminate a bus route or cut back on utilities,” he said in an email.

“Not only is the basic MFP money

leaving, but the state is deducting additional MFP money per student

from local funds dedicated

to bond issues for non-construction costs and sales taxes. The

state would deduct $9,000 from the Jeff Davis MFP for the scholarship.”

State district court Judge Tim Kelley

has set aside three days for the teacher union suit. LFT President Steve

Monaghan said

local funds are wrongly being redirected to the voucher program

and that lawmakers didn’t give the law enough scrutiny before

passing it.

The Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu school boards are taking part in the lawsuit. Wayne Savoy, Calcasieu superintendent, said

school districts will continue to abide by the law until they’re told differently. Clayton hopes that will happen soon.

“If Governor Jindal controls the state judges as he does the Legislature, the school districts will lose the lawsuit,” he

said. “Hopefully, Judge Tim Kelley is a judge who is independent and fair, acting on the Constitution.”