Louisiana Supreme Court Finds Voucher Funding Unconstitutional

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the funding formula used for the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional. The program, which was shepherded through the Legislature by the state’s Governor Bobby Jindal last year, was voided by a 6-1 decision because the Louisiana Constitution prohibits the use of public money to fund private schools in certain circumstances.

The issue appears to be that the voucher program is funded out of the state’s Minimum Foundation Program. The majority opinion said that the state constitution prohibits diverting money from MFP towards private schools once it has been allocated.

In addition, the court ruled that the MFP formula didn’t get the needed support from lawmakers, passing with only 51 votes when 53 were required.

The Jindal administration has pushed on with the voucher program despite the earlier court ruling. Roughly 8,000 students have been approved for vouchers in the coming school year. It remains unclear how the program will be funded now that use of MFP money has been struck down. State Education Superintendent John White was not immediately available for comment.

Jindal pledged to continue the program, with an add-on through the regular annual budget process. He’ll need backing from lawmakers to do so.

The Associated Press quotes a statement from Jindal expressing disappointment at the decision but promising to find a way to fund the program through an alternative budget process. Jindal said that making sure that parents have a choice when it comes to their kids’ education is important because they can’t afford the children’s “one shot” at a good education to be wasted.

The opinion, written by Justice John Weimer, goes to some lengths to emphasize that the judges were not taking a position on the effectiveness of the voucher program or its value. The decision was reached, according to Weimer, on strictly constitutional grounds.

The majority included Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and Justices Jeffrey Victory, Jeanette Knoll, Marcus Clark and Jefferson Hughes.

Justice Greg Guidry was the only dissenter.

“The majority overlooks the fact that, once a student leaves a district, the district is no longer entitled to the state’s share of the MFP for that student, and thus the district’s share of the MFP is removed from the MFP allocation to that district,” Guidry wrote.

It isn’t clear what the decision means for the voucher program in the immediate future. As of March, the program – called the Louisiana Scholarship Program – continued to draw a growing number of applicants all looking to take part. On March 29th, the Louisiana Department of Education reported that more than 7,000 new applications were received from families who were hoping to receive a check from the state to leave low-performing schools in their districts and enroll in a private school instead.