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BREAKING NEWS: Judge rules Louisiana school voucher plan unconstitutional

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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.

      Joyce Haynes

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.

Reader Comments

  1. retiredcoach

    Hey union members- my wife and I have a total of 88 years teaching in the public schools. We fought for vouchers just about every year, and I said every time it came up- “Can’t we just do what is BEST for the kids?”

    “No way,” was always the union response-“we might lose valuable funds”

    And I would replay with comments about the fact that they choose at which market to shop and which restaurant to eat or which car to buy-WHY CAN’T PARENTS CHOOSE the best school? I would ask if they were afraid of competition?

    Reply
    • Tim

      I would agree with you if the “competition” we’re equal. In my state charter schools are not restricted by the State Ed code, they pay lower wages, they can reject students for any reason or none. Result? A charter school can cherry pick the best and brightest. While the public schools lose these kids they have the responsibility to educate the most difficult kids and are blamed for having poor results in comparison with the most successful charters. Despite all this public schools are competing successfully against many (not all) charters. Is our goal education for all?

      Reply
    • Marie Stanford

      Dear “retiredcoach”, Parents CAN choose what school their children attend. They can send their kids to the public schools funded with tax payer’s money, or they can choose to send their kids to private schools which are NOT funded with tax payer’s money. If they choose private schools, why should the tax payers be expected to pay for that private education? You can [replay] with comments about the selection of grocery stores and restaurants, but this has nothing to do with school choice. If a parent thinks the “best school” isn’t the public school, then by all means they should send their child to the school of their choice, However, they should be prepared to pay for that private education.

      Reply
  2. Margaretrc

    Public schools aren’t allowed to teach religious propaganda like the Earth is only 6000 years old, the Bible’s account of creation is true and evolution is false, and other such nonsense. The constitution mandates that government not promote religion. Taxpayer money can’t be allowed to fund education that promotes a particular religious view. Period. I for one, am very glad Judge Kelley struck down this law today.

    Reply
  3. Niki Shields

    Ann,
    You are misinformed. It’s the private schools that are for-profit. They are in it for the money. Contrary to the propaganda put out by Tea Party governors and for-profit school companies, public schools are doing as well and usually better than those funded by vouchers.

    Reply
  4. Maribel Rivera

    I don’t agree with this decision either, as the mother of a child that highly benefits from the program, it’s a sad message they are sending . When my child’s needs we’re not being met in the public school system, and I had to struggle for six years just to get her an IEP and a 504 . Florida just has the teachers getting them ready for F-cats and special needs children are left behind. Like I told the school administration know on our first meeting I refuse to let my child fall through the cracks , because to you all , she’s just another minority child. But I fought tooth and nail and finally got my child out of the public school system and into a private school , it has been like night and day . My daughter has improved in ways I had never imagine.

    Reply
    • Kate Hoover

      Maribel, I know the education community is unhappy that any child will be negatively impacted by this decision. However, your experience is extremely rare. It is usually the other way around. Private schools typically refuse children with special needs because of the additional costs involved. Also, teachers in most private schools are not required to have a background in special education so are unqualified to respond to the particular needs of these children. While I agree that schools are giving too much attention to preparing students for end of instruction testing, they have been put in that position by the new requirements of the Core Curriculum program and the new school evaluation process. I understand the intent of these efforts, but they have gone to extremes in several areas and there will need to be some modifications for these new programs to work to everyone’s best interests. Vouchers is not the answer for the vast majority of children. It is not designed to offer the best possible education for all of our children, but to use tax dollars to offset costs for wealthier individuals who prefer to send their children to private schools, for a variety of personal reasons unrelated to the quality of the education their children will receive. The biggest problem with the voucher system is that tax dollars will be funneled away from public schools at a time when they need more money, not less. Plus, once a private school has the year’s funding for individual students, such as those with special needs, they can decide those children do not meet the school’s requirements and send them back to the public school in their area. However, the private school gets to keep the money, and the public school is left trying to help those children without the funds needed to do so. It would become a very segregated, very separatist educational system.

      Reply
    • Marie Stanford

      Maribel, I believe you are referring to a school that specializes in educating special needs children. I worked in an autism program for three years and only autistic kids were enrolled there. All the teachers and aids were trained and certified to work with autistic kids. This by no means was a “private” school, rather it was a special needs school within the public school district. Also, teachers in most public schools are very quick to recognize a child with special needs and refer them for testing so their needs can be met as they are not usually trained to teach special needs kids. I find your post very curious as you refer to being “the mother of a child that highly benefits from the program…” Exactly WHAT program would that be?

      Reply
  5. Darcia Watson

    The thing is that private schools are not required to follow the same laws as public schools so having to educate the disabled is left up to public schools. If public money is going to go to private schools then they should have to follow all the guidelines that public schools have to including all the standardized testing and grading.

    Reply
    • Tim

      First the Fed govt forced massive testing on schools. Then they used test results to conclude the schools were failing. Next they sought to establish private charters where the tests were not mandated. Result: good (non public) schools are more creative and free to innovate. Bad (public) schools are boring places dedicated to rote learning. How does this improve education for the vast majority of kids?

      Reply
  6. ann turner

    I don’t agree. Children not are getting taught in public schools the way they should. The public schools quality keeps going down and the voucher system can let you find a school that teaches and is not all in it for the money.

    Reply
    • Deborah Tonguis

      Ann ~ where do you think vouchers are used by the majority of students who qualify for them? They are used at for-profit private or religious schools. If the parent chooses the private school, public tax money is supporting a for-profit institution which charges the child’s school district extra for tuition the state allotted money doesn’t cover. And if parents choose a religious school, public tax money is being funneled into a religious organization – which is a violation of church and state. Why not spend more time and attention in the public school your child attends, and work to make it better. Parents are really our greatest ally.

      Reply
    • Pat Fleming

      Ann Turner. You are either ignorant of on the payroll of the charter school people. Nationally charter schools score 37% lower than their “mirror” public schools. Seventeen percent of charter schools score above average and 36% score significantly below average on the same tests that supposedly prove that we are doing a poor job in the public schools. Don’t make me explain average to you! There are two reasons for charter schools. One is profit the other one is segregation. Which reason do you cling to? It is an established fact that US public schools that have 10% or less poverty are the best in the world. We even beat Finland which is touted as the best. You cannot have quality if you are not willing to pay for it and you are obviously looking for quality education with out paying for it. The US is tied at 37 in the world for funding public education. We are tied with Austria and Estonia. Did you see the part about Estonia? Think about that. Get a clue.

      Reply
    • aiw

      Nonsense. That bill allowed for students to be taught from books that claimed, among other things, that the Loch Ness monster is real, and that Adam and Eve rode on dinosaurs. But you think kids in public schools aren’t being taught they way they should? What’s wrong with YOU?

      Reply
    • Marie Stanford

      “Children not are getting taught in public schools the way they should.”
      Ann, Clearly you weren’t paying attention in English class, so I find it interesting that you would post anything about how children are being taught!

      Reply

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