The Louisiana Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court judgment that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional because of program funding that diverts money for public schools into the private voucher system. The Times-Picayune reports:
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 6-1, with 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 ruling states that the per-pupil allocation, called the minimum foundation program or MFP, must go to public schools. Justice John 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.”
Furthermore, the court found that the instrument Jindal used to pass the MFP for the 2012-13 school year violated proper procedure and was therefore void from the start.
Instead of passing a law, the Legislature appropriated the MFP funds by passing a resolution, SCR 99. However, that resolution “was intended to have the effect of law,” according to the court, and it was filed after the deadline for introducing new bills, rendering it invalid. This part of the Supreme Court decision overturns the judgment made in Baton Rouge district court in November.
Within hours of the decision, Jindal responded with a statement saying he would find another way to fund a voucher program “through the budget,” although it is not clear how he will do so without violating the holding, unless he passes a voucher law.
While this ruling made clear that it is not weighing in on the merits of the program, a federal district court recently suspended the voucher program in one district over concerns that it was interfering with desegregation. Several recent studies have found that voucher programs are an ineffective way to improve student performance, draining funds and diversity from public programs, without improving the performance of even those attending the voucher schools.