A Louisiana judge ruled against the state’s new voucher program, agreeing with the plaintiffs that it violated the state constitution by diverting public funds to private schools.

The state will appeal.

The attorney for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers explains here why the teachers are suing to block Governor Jindal’s Act 2.

It’s not because the law is “illegal,” but because it expressly violates the state constitution.

It’s not because it spends public money for vouchers but because it takes money expressly reserved for public elementary and secondary schools and gives it to private, religious and online schools, as well as post-secondary institutions, that are clearly not public elementary and secondary schools.

By Larry Samuel, LFT General Counsel

It’s time to set the record straight…and correct the inaccurate media reports as to what our Act 2 lawsuit is all about.

First, we are not claiming that the Act is “illegal.” We are claiming that it is unconstitutional. There is a difference. The constitution is the supreme law. Without it, the legislature has no power. The Constitution contains requirements that must be met.

Second, we are not challenging the use of “taxpayer money” for vouchers. Taxpayer money has been used for vouchers for 4 years in Louisiana, and we never challenged it. Why are we lodging this challenge? Because the source of the money are funds contained in the Minimum Foundation Program. Why does this matter? Because Article VIII, Section 13(b) of the Constitution states that the formula “shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.”

MFP money is going to online course providers, many of which are private (not public), out of state, and are by no stretch of the imagination “ elementary and secondary public school systems.” MFP money is going to post-secondary schools, which is clearly prohibited. Money is going to private and sectarian schools.

Also, local funds are being allocated to online course providers, post-secondary schools, and non-public schools. These are funds that voters approved at the ballot box, that specifically state that the funds shall be used for public elementary and secondary schools. The Constitution prohibits these local funds from going to private schools.

Third, in this lawsuit we are not challenging whether as a matter of policy, taxpayer money should or should not go to private schools. We fought that battle in the legislature (which is the appropriate place to raise policy issues) and we lost. This lawsuit challenges whether the constitution allows MFP money to be allocated to persons and entities that aren’t public elementary and secondary school systems.

Fourth, this lawsuit has nothing to do with a religious challenge to vouchers. We have not raised the issue of whether voucher money going to religious schools is a violation of constitutional “separation of church and state” mandates.

We are asking the Court to rule whether the MFP Resolution is a matter that is “intended to have the force and effect of law,” and if so, whether Act 2 violates other provisions in the Constitution, such as:

The provision in the Louisiana Constitution that states that matters “intended to have the force and effect of law” must be filed in the legislature prior to a fixed deadline. We contend that because the legislature missed the deadline, the law has no force and effect.

The provision in the Louisiana Constitution that states that matters “intended to have the force and effect of law” must be considered in the legislature prior to a fixed deadline. We contend that because the legislature missed the deadline, the law has no force and effect.

The provision in the Constitution that states that matters “intended to have the effect of law” must receive a majority vote of the elected members of the House (which would be 53 votes). The MFP Resolution received 53 votes. Thus, it never passed.

The provision in the Louisiana Constitution that requires a bill to have a “single object.” This provision is important because it recognizes that when a legislator casts a vote on a bill, he or she should not be faced with the dilemma of having to vote either for or against a bill that has many objects to it. We contend that the Bill that became Act 2 has a multitude of objects.
The lawsuit asks the Court to rule solely on Constitutional matters. Not policy matters. Some call us the “Coalition of the Status Quo.” We prefer to be called the “Protectors of the Constitution.”