Louisiana Voucher Law Still in Courts

Last Updated: April 12, 2013

This article appeared in the April 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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A federal judge in New Orleans has ruled that Act 2, Louisiana’s new voucher law, prevents the Tangipahoa Parish school system from complying with its desegregation order, but the state has appealed that decision.

Late last year, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle held that the program results in a flow of funding out of the district that prevents it from maintaining magnet programs and other efforts to encourage diversity. (Editor’s note: See previous RSFN coverage here.)

A number of students, a majority of whom are white according to some reports, have used the vouchers for tuition at private and parochial schools. Last October the district asked the federal court to intervene, saying that the loss of funding was harming its desegregation efforts.

The voucher program does not compel districts to use local funding for the vouchers; doing so could run counter to the state’s constitution. State officials had therefore argued that there was no loss of local funds that would harm the district’s bottom line. However, Louisiana’s finance program, the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), is calculated by a set of formulas that take into account both the number of students in the district and local ability to raise funding, and the MPF makes a deduction for each voucher student from funds that the district receives; that amount includes the state’s portion of funding and an amount roughly equal to the local portion for each voucher student.

Judge Lemelle disagreed with the state and held that the voucher program, regardless of whether the local portion reduction is technically local funds, results in the School Board having less local money to carry out the judge's order in the 47-year-old desegregation case. More than thirty Pelican State school districts are under federal desegregation orders.

In late March, the Louisiana Department of Education appealed Lemelle’s decision, arguing that a federal court cannot interfere with a state’s financial decisions and that Lemelle should have waited to learn the outcome of the challenge to the voucher program before ruling.

State ruling. Just a few days after the federal court decision was released, State District Judge Timothy E. Kelley of Baton Rouge ruled that the voucher program violates the state constitution because it diverts funds exclusively designated for public education elsewhere.

The state lawsuit was brought by Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana School Boards Association, and 43 local school boards. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the law and the means by which it was passed. Judge Kelley struck down the law, but upheld the process. The state appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court; the parties presented arguments in March.

The voucher program is still underway with applications being accepted for next year while a decision on the appeal is pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court. Across the state, some 5,000 public school students are receiving vouchers to pay their tuition to private and parochial schools. State news outlets report an increased interest in the program.

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Local coverage:

Background on other suits challenging Jindal voucher law:


Read more from the April 2013 Rural Policy Matters.