Last Modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 2:34 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide voucher program can continue on track, after a state appeals court denied a bid by teacher unions and school boards to block its start next month as they challenge whether the program is constitutional.
In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge upheld a lower ruling that it couldn't stop taxpayer-subsidized students from attending private and parochial schools.
The decision comes as a lawyer for the Louisiana Association of Educators — one of the teacher unions seeking to stop the program — sent a letter to private schools accepting voucher students, saying the schools could end up in court for taking taxpayer money while the constitutional challenge is pending.
"Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary to prevent the unconstitutional transfer of public monies," Brian Blackwell wrote in a letter to the schools.
Superintendent of Education John White praised the appeals court's decision, but accused the LAE of trying to frighten schools from participating in the program by threatening to include them in the lawsuit.
"While we are happy for Louisiana's children that the ruling allows them to attend the school their parents think best, we find the kind of scare tactics used by the plaintiff to be shameful," White said in a statement Thursday.
Teacher unions and dozens of local school boards filed a lawsuit calling the law that created the voucher program and the separate financing formula that pays for it unconstitutional. A hearing on the claims is set for October.
Blackwell said the letter wasn't meant to intimidate participating voucher schools, but to advise them against spending dollars that are at dispute in the lawsuit.
He said schools could put the voucher money in escrow or not accept the funding until the lawsuit is decided. However, the letter doesn't offer a list of options, just simply warns the schools against taking the money.
"The letter may not be my finest hour in regards to writing, I'll acknowledge that, but at the same time, I'm trying to get a point across to the recipients," Blackwell said.
Eric Lewis, Louisiana state director for the pro-voucher Black Alliance for Educational Options, called the letter distasteful and threatening, and he questioned how private schools could educate voucher students without taking the money from the state.
"I don't see how they'd do that from a business standpoint," he said.
In its ruling, the appellate court panel cited a 1969 law that bars injunctions if a state agency chief says that would cause a deficit in the department.
White and the governor's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said in affidavits that the Department of Education would face a deficit if the laws creating and funding the voucher program were blocked.
Larry Samuel, a lawyer for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the organization will appeal the ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, hoping to stop the program.
The voucher program is estimated to cost as much as $50 million in the upcoming school year. Opponents worry that even if they win the lawsuit, they might not be able to reclaim the money sent to some of the private schools.
"The real concern is with the schools that paltry financial resources and then who receive the money and then spend it will not have the ability to repay it if the program ultimately is declared unconstitutional," Blackwell said.
Posted By: deutsch29 On: 7/26/2012
On to a higher court...