After months of behind-the-scenes legal haggling since a lawsuit was filed in June, the court hearing is set for Wednesday. District Judge Tim Kelley set aside three days for the case.
Two statewide teacher unions and dozens of local school boards say the voucher program that is using tax dollars to send children to private schools and other new education funding plans are unconstitutional.
They argue it’s illegal to pay for the voucher program, home-schooling, online courses, college tuition and independently run charter schools that won’t be affiliated with local school systems through the public school funding formula.
They also claim lawmakers didn’t follow the constitutional requirements for filing and passing the education programs and their funding.
“This is about protecting the constitutional rights of all Louisiana’s school children_not just a select few. Our state constitution promises that every child in Louisiana will be provided with an educational setting that will give them the opportunity to develop to their full potential and that’s exactly what we’re trying to protect,” Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said in a statement about the case.
Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White defend the constitutionality of the programs and the process for passing them into law. They say the voucher program is helping thousands of children get a better education than they would have received in the public schools they left.
“Taxpaying parents made the decision that this is what is best for their child and their tax dollars. We’re now in the middle of the school year, and even then some people continue to stop at nothing to prevent parents from doing what’s best for their children,” White said in a statement.
The Louisiana Supreme Court refused to stop the launch of the statewide voucher program while the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality remained undecided. The new program began with the start of the school year in August. A similar program already existed in New Orleans.
More than 4,900 students are enrolled in 117 private schools around Louisiana with taxpayer dollars, one of the largest voucher programs in the nation. Voucher slots are available to students who otherwise would attend public schools graded with a C, D or F by the state.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed its lawsuit in early June. The Louisiana Association of Educators then followed with its own lawsuit, and the cases were consolidated. The Louisiana School Boards Association later also was added to the list of groups challenging the voucher program and the other initiatives included in Jindal’s education package.
Defendants are the state, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Education.
Lawmakers agreed to the voucher program and other education changes pushed by Jindal in their regular session earlier this year, as a way to improve student achievement. Teachers repeatedly protested at the Louisiana Capitol, but the measures were fast-tracked through the Legislature by Jindal allies.