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Louisiana’s School Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional

By Ian Millhiser  

"Louisiana’s School Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional"

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On Friday, a state court in Louisiana declared Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) school voucher program unconstitutional, citing the fact that it takes away from public school students in order to pay for the vouchers:

A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition for thousands of low- and middle-income children. . . . The state had argued that as long as it was funding public schools adequately and equitably, it could give a portion of state education funds to private and parochial schools as well, in the interest of giving families more educational options.

But Judge Kelley ruled that Louisiana’s annual education appropriation, calculated under a complex formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program, was intended exclusively for public schools. To divert it, he said, violated the state constitution.

Friday’s decision marks the second time a court cast a skeptical eye on this voucher program. Earlier in the same week, a federal court temporarily suspended vouchers in Tangipahoa Parish, citing concern that the vouchers impeded implementation of a court-ordered desegregation plan.

Although vouchers are a perennial goal of conservative policymakers, research indicates they are, at best, an ineffective way to improve student performance. A 2001 survey of education research on the subject determined that “a decade of research has shown no academic benefit from sending students to voucher schools,” and that “voucher programs may in fact increase funding inequities between low-income and high-income school districts, stratify students by income, race and social background, and drain needed funds from the nation’s public school systems.”

More recently, a 2009 study of voucher students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin found that “there is no overall statistically significant difference between [voucher and public school] student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other.” A second study of Milwaukee’s voucher system determined that “the percentages of fourth-graders in voucher schools who met the state’s definition of proficiency in reading and math were lower than percentages for low-income [public school] fourth-graders.”

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