By Ben Velderman
BATON ROGUE, La. – The funding mechanism for Louisiana’s voucher program may have been declared unconstitutional by a State District Court judge late last month, but the program itself is far from dead.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is appealing the Nov. 30 decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which could reverse the judge’s ruling. However, even if the high court upholds Judge Tim Kelley’s finding that vouchers cannot be paid for with money meant solely for public K-12 schools, it will still leave the governor with a path for keeping the voucher program intact, reports the Associated Press.
“Jindal would need to seek financing for vouchers through the regular annual budget process – a process that is heavily influenced by the governor’s office,” the AP reports. That’s how Jindal’s 2008 New Orleans-only voucher plan has been funded, and it never resulted in a court challenge.
That’s not an ideal solution for voucher proponents, as the annual budget process is filled with “political complications, year-to-year uncertainty and budget squabbling,” the New York Times reports.
Nearly 5,000 of Louisiana’s K-12 students and 117 private schools are already making use of the new voucher program, at a cost of $25 million. Those costs would grow as more families seek vouchers.
Still, state leaders are promising to take any necessary steps to keep the program alive.
“Barring any outcome in the courts, we’re going to make sure parents are served,” State Superintendent John White told the Times.
But the funding mechanism debate is just one challenge for education reformers.
The AP reports that “the governor’s bigger problem in maintaining the voucher program could rest with a separate ruling from a federal judge that came down only a few days before Kelley’s decision.”
According to U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, the voucher program conflicts with a 47-year-old desegregation case that requires equal treatment and funding for all students in public schools, the news group notes.
Lemelle’s ruling could invalidate the voucher plan in more than 30 of the state’s 69 parish and city school districts, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
The state is also appealing that decision.