The survival of school choice in Louisiana is at stake in a court battle that pits education reformers against teachers’ unions.
The Louisiana legislature approved Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reforms earlier this year, creating a voucher system that would give children state money to attend schools of their choice.
But the Louisiana Association of Educators has sued to prevent implementation of the policy, which they say amounts to a takeover of public education by corporations and religious organizations.
The Louisiana District Court will hear the case Monday.
The governor characterized the union’s lawsuit as an attempt to stall needed reforms.
“The coalition of the status quo has fought reform every step of the way, so it is no surprise teacher unions are making this last ditch effort to convince the courts to overrule the vote of the people and the Legislature,” Jindal said through a spokesman, in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Holding up these reforms in court would only deny parents and students the opportunity to escape failing schools.”
The Institute for Justice has taken the side of school choice, and will make the argument that the voucher system is constitutional, according to Bill Maurer, the institute’s chief attorney on the case.
“The legislature has both the moral and legal obligation to provide alternative to children so they don’t end up mired in poverty, lacking a good education for their entire lives,” Maruer said in an interview with TheDC News Foundation.
The Louisiana constitution requires the government to provide an education to kids, but does not specifically mandate the funding of public schools, according to Maurer.
And because many of the state’s schools are among the worst in the nation — 44 percent earned ‘D’ or ‘F’ rankings from the state Department of Education — Louisiana will actually be failing its legal obligation to provide education if it does not approve school choice.
“When you have that kind of manifest failure to produce the results that are required under the Louisiana constitution for educating children, then it’s the obligation of the legislature to take steps to fix that problem,” said Maurer.
At least 29 Louisiana schools received a grade of ‘F-‘ in the Board of Education’s most recent report.
“You almost have to stand there in awe that someone would be that committed to failure, and they actually managed to do worse than failing,” Maurer said.
LAE president Joyce Haynes was unavailable for comment. The union has maintained that it is unconstitutional for parents to use state money to send their kids to private and religious schools.
Haynes sent letters to several Christian schools over the summer warning them not to accept funding from the voucher program. An LAE spokesperson previously told TheDC News Foundation that the letters weren’t intended to be threatening — they were merely a precaution so the schools could avoid legal trouble if the voucher program was struck down.
“One school agreed not to accept funds under the program until there was a final and definitive decision on its constitutionality,” wrote Ashley Davis, an LAE spokesperson, in an email to The DC News Foundation. “We are working with the other school to hold the funds in escrow pending the court’s determination of the constitutionality of the program.”
Maurer called the tactic bullying.
“They would rather turn to litigation than take it upon themselves to make the delivery of educational services better,” he said. “Forcing underprivileged and low-income students to stay in under-performing and failing public schools.”
Regardless of how the district court rules, an appeal by the losing side is likely.
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