UPDATED: Supreme Court Kills Louisiana Voucher Funding

The school voucher program per se isn’t unconstitutional. The Court just said that funding it through the Minimum Foundation Program is unconstitutional, because the state constitution says the MFP is specifically intended to fund public schools.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program.

The vote was 2-1, with Justice John Weimer and Justice Jeffrey Victory in the majority and Justice Greg Guidry dissenting. The plaintiffs in the case include the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

The decision states that the per-pupil allocation, called the minimum foundation program or MFP, must go to public schools. Weimer writes, “The state funds approved through the unique MFP process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution.”

This is hardly the victory the teacher unions will make it out to be, because Jindal can merely create a new line item in the general fund covering the voucher program and then cut MFP funding by a commensurate amount. Obviously he’s going to need to have a majority vote at the Legislature to make that happen, and it seems they’re a bit cheesed off at him at present, so that’s one more fight the governor probably doesn’t need.

But while the decision is more of an additional obstacle than a substantive defeat, its timing is atrocious for Jindal – and it will add to the perception that nobody’s minding the store – a perception that the current budget chaos is injecting jet fuel into.

UPDATE: From the administration, a brave face…

Governor Bobby Jindal issued the following statement regarding the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling on Act 2:

“This ruling means that the Scholarship Program is alive and well. I’ve looked these parents and their children in the eyes and I know how important it is to give them the opportunity to get a better education. Before this reform, 44 percent of our schools were failing, we were spending nearly a billion dollars on failing schools and one-third of students were performing below grade level.

“Now the number of failing schools is decreasing, scores are increasing and more Louisiana families finally have a choice. The number of parents who want to be part of the Scholarship Program has grown by nearly 3,000 this year.

“We’re disappointed the funding mechanism was rejected, but we are committed to making sure this program continues and we will fund it through the budget. The bottom line is that our kids only get one chance to grow up and we are committed to making sure choice is alive and families can send their children to the school of their choice.”

Just last week, Governor Jindal announced that the Louisiana Department of Education has successfully matched nearly 8,000 students with the school of their choice in the Louisiana Scholarship Program. These 8,000 first-round offers mark nearly 3,000 more scholarships offered to students than in 2012. Roughly 12,000 families across the state expressed interest in participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program this spring, up from approximately 10,000 families in 2012.

During the announcement, Governor Jindal highlighted key facts regarding Louisiana’s highly successful Scholarship Program, including that the percentage of third graders in the scholarship program demonstrating proficiency in math is up 23 percentage points compared to two points statewide, and in English, the percentage is up 12 points compared to three points statewide.

A recent survey conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children showed that 92.5 percent of the parents of scholarship students were very satisfied with the program and 93.6 percent of parents are very satisfied with their children’s academic progress.

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