by Félix Pérez
A Louisiana state judge, in a major victory for public education, ruled this afternoon that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional. The ruling is a blow to Gov. Bobby Jindal and vindication for the Louisiana Association of Educators, which has fought the program since it first arose in the state legislature this spring.
Judge Tim Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, ruled that Jindal’s expanded voucher program unconstitutionally diverts public money to send some public school students to private and parochial schools.
“It’s a very important decision every way around for students because school funding has been cut to the point where everything we need to help students, from certified teachers to programs to close the achievement gap, is at risk,” Joyce Haynes, a 36-year veteran of Louisiana public schools, told Education Votes.
“Proponents tout the voucher program as a means of reducing education costs, but they actually increase costs,” she said. “This program would have required Louisiana taxpayers to fund two school systems — one public and one private — draining away precious resources from our public school classrooms. Our students, teachers, and taxpayers deserve better.”
Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was sitting in the third row of the courtroom when Kelley announced his ruling. “We sat there in silence. We reached out to one another, sighed and hugged as a team.”
Haynes said she expects the state to appeal the ruling. “Whatever the state does or doesn’t do won’t stop us from standing up for children and public education. At the end of the day, it’s about every child being able to get a great public education in a great public school.
It always has and always will be about what’s best for our children. Ninety-eight percent of Louisiana families opted not to take part in the voucher program, and we need to ensure that the funds in question are used to improve these students’ educational experiences in the public school system, said Haynes.
Kelley’s ruling is separate from one issued Monday, November 26, by a New Orleans-based federal judge. That decision halted Jindal’s voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish, saying it conflicts with a decades-old desegregation case. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that the sweeping education changes pushed by Jindal and passed by lawmakers violated orders in Tangipahoa’s 47-year-old desegregation case.