In a closely watched Louisiana Supreme Court case that began today, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the court to rule that the state’s voucher program violates the state constitution because it diverts taxpayer funds to private schools.
NSBA has filed an amicus brief in the case, Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, which could have national implications for the school choice movement. The lawsuit brought by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) and other education groups challenges the constitutionality of several measures adopted by the Louisiana State Legislature in 2012, including a law that provides vouchers to students in low-performing schools. Under the law, a centerpiece of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education agenda, the state board of elementary and secondary education is required to pay funds to private schools, including religious schools, as “scholarships” to cover the tuition and fees of students whose parents choose to remove their children from “failing” public schools and send them to a participating private school.
The trial court ruled in favor of the education groups and school districts, and the State of Louisiana now seeks an expedited review by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The voucher program undermines this country’s longstanding commitment to public education and harms the state’s children by depriving poorer school systems of scarce resources, NSBA writes in the brief. Further, most of the private schools receiving public tax dollars under the program are not subject to the same accountability requirements as public schools.
“These vouchers have allowed tax dollars to be diverted from public education to private individuals and entities that are not subject to the same academic, operational, and accountability standards as public schools,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “These laws are part of a national campaign by special interest groups to promote a narrow political agenda over the needs and well being of the schoolchildren of Louisiana.”
The program allows parents to use vouchers for their children as early as kindergarten, even if the child never attended a public school or the school is highly ranked.
“Louisiana already has a system of school choice through community public schools and charter schools, and we need our elected officials to ensure that our state has the best public school system available to all of its families,” said LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard. “Local school boards are responsible to provide public schools to their communities that are open to all students and reflect community needs. Vouchers have taken away critical state and local funding from Louisiana’s public schools, which the vast majority of our students attend.”