Superintendent of Education John White. (Donna Price / American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 3:01 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — An Oct. 15 date has been set for arguments in a lawsuit by teacher unions and local school boards, including Calcasieu Parish, challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide voucher program.
Judge Tim Kelley chose the hearing date Tuesday in a meeting with lawyers for both sides in the case.
Attorneys for two statewide teacher unions and dozens of local school boards say the voucher program that will use tax dollars to send children to private schools and other new education funding plans are unconstitutional.
They argue it's improper to pay for the programs through the public school funding formula, and they claim lawmakers didn't follow the process for passing laws.
Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White defend the constitutionality of the programs and the process for passing them into law.Also on Tuesday, a nonpartisan government watchdog group asked White to seek legislative guidance as he designs accountability standards for schools participating in the new voucher program.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana sent a letter to White, urging him to present drafts of his accountability policies to the House and Senate education committees for the program that will use tax dollars to send students to private schools.
“These decisions should be made in a transparent manner,” wrote PAR President Robert Travis Scott in the letter that also praised the program as likely to improve educational quality in Louisiana.
Lawmakers required the policies be in place by Aug. 1 and gave White the responsibility of devising them. White is scheduled to present the plans to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on July 24.
White’s spokesman Barry Landry indicated the superintendent had no plans to ask for a legislative hearing, saying the committees reviewed the voucher program plans in their spring deliberations on the bill and the Legislature required the education department to create the rules.
“BESE is meeting next week to consider these rules. The process is already happening as intended by the Legislature,” Landry said in a statement.
Students in public schools are subject to standardized tests that determine whether fourth-graders and eighth-graders advance to the next grade and that are used at each grade level to grade the performance of a school.
Such testing and grading standards aren’t expected to be used at participating voucher schools. Lawmakers, at the urging of the Jindal administration, rejected attempts to require similar accountability measures for the private and parochial schools.
Scott said the standards devised by White need to ensure that taxpayers can be confident their money is well spent and that students are receiving an adequate education.
“As a way of judging schools, parental choice is important. But parents need good information and reliable comparisons to make good choices,” Scott wrote.
PAR also asked for more clarity on the criteria announced by White for schools participating in the program, saying the initial standards for disqualifying schools, deciding which can participate and determining health and welfare standards give broad powers to White’s office and leave several questions unanswered.
“The rules so far do not provide a system for identifying or dealing consistently with nonpublic schools that might fail to offer a quality education. Please consider this aspect of accountability in your second set of rules,” Scott wrote.
Students and their parents are supposed to find out next week if they get a voucher seat, according to the timeline described by White.