Judge Deals a Setback to Louisiana’s Voucher Program

Across the United States politicians believe that they have found the answer to improving schools.  They have endorsed and used a variety of techniques, which they believe will revitalized a failing of state-run schools.  Bobbie Jindal, Governor of Louisiana and a potential presidential candidate in 2016 believes that vouchers and charter schools, in his low performing state, will do just that.  But Judge Timothy Kelley of State District Court ruled that the way in which the state finances its new voucher program violates the state Constitution, as it relies on money intended in “plain and unambiguous” terms solely for public schools.

The voucher program, on the other hand, is already under way: about 5,000 of Louisiana’s 556,000 students are participating.

In a statement, Governor Jindal called the decision “wrongheaded and a travesty for parents across Louisiana” and vowed to appeal. But if it survives appeal, the state court’s decision would make things far messier for a governor who is widely believed to have aspirations for national office, and who made education reform a centerpiece of his second-term agenda.

Voucher opponents in some other states have successfully argued that vouchers violate constitutional bans on money going to religious schools, while others have contended that redirecting more to private schools would leave the public education system inadequately financed.

The law at the center of the debate, which was passed last March, includes more than just a voucher system: it also significantly broadens and streamlines the process of establishing charter schools and creates a program in which students can take courses from online providers with state money.

But if the State Supreme Court were to agree with the district judge and find that arrangement unconstitutional, money for vouchers would have to be appropriated as a separate line item each year, with all of the political complications, year-to-year uncertainty and budget squabbling that would entail.

What is certain is that there will be more arguments on the issue to come, in both the courts and in the state legislature. It is certainly not as potentially problematic for the program as a decision that vouchers violate a standing court order on desegregation, as a federal judge ruled last week in regard to such an order in one Louisiana parish.

Taking money from under-funded, poorly-performing public schools and giving it, in the form of vouchers to privately-run, and in some cases, unaccountable charter schools is wrong.  Just as giving public monies to private schools is wrong.  The damage done to public education and the vast majority of students doesn’t make sense to me.