State Supreme Court to hear voucher case

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's top court

next month will hear the state's appeal of a Baton Rouge judge's ruling

that Louisiana's

expanded voucher program unconstitutionally divert public funds to

private and parochial schools.

The Advocate reported the state Supreme Court is scheduled to entertain oral arguments March 19 in

New Orleans.

State District Judge Tim Kelley's Nov. 30

ruling came at the end of a three-day trial of consolidated lawsuits,

filed by Louisiana's

two largest teacher unions and the state's school boards

association, challenging the legality of Act 2 and Senate Concurrent

Resolution 99 — both of the 2012 legislative session.

Act 2 is the so-called voucher bill, and SCR 99 is the Minimum Foundation Program resolution.

Public school aid in Louisiana goes through the MFP formula. This year, it provides some $3.4 billion in basic state aid for

school operations and students statewide.

Under Act 2, students who attend public

schools rated C, D or F under the state accountability system and who

meet income

rules can apply for state aid to attend private or parochial

schools. The vouchers provide aid to cover tuition and mandatory

fees at private and parochial schools. Those schools collect an

average of $5,300 per student from the state.

The new expanded program began with the start of the school year in August. Before the new law, the state offered vouchers

only to certain students in New Orleans.

Kelley agreed with the Louisiana Federation

of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana

School Boards

Association and ruled that Act 2 and SCR 99 unconstitutionally

divert to nonpublic entities "MFP funds that are constitutionally

mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary

schools."

The judge also said the act and concurrent resolution unconstitutionally divert to nonpublic entities "local funds included

in the MFP that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated" to public schools. Local funds refers to tax dollars.

Governor Bobby Jindal has called Kelley's

ruling "a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more

than for their

children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great

education." The governor said the decision "sadly ignores the rights

of families who do not have the means necessary to escape failing

schools."

The lawsuits by the LFT, LAE and LSBA were filed against the state Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary

and Secondary Education.