BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s Supreme Court says using public school funds to pay for private school vouchers is unconstitutional. The 6-1 ruling, issued Tuesday by the high court, says the state cannot use the MFP—Louisiana’s public school funding formula—to cover tuition for private education providers.
“We agree with the district court that once funds are dedicated to the Minimum Foundation Program for public education, the constitution prohibits those funds from being expended on the tuition costs of nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities,” states the ruling.
Further, the justices ruled that the Louisiana Legislature improperly approved the MFP last year, violating procedural rules for both filing the law and voting on it—a decision that differed from the ruling of the lower court.
Borrowing one of Governor Bobby Jindal’s favorite phrases, the heads of both teachers’ unions—plaintiffs in the court case—declared, “It’s a great day for Louisiana.”
“We went to court because we respect the law, and we respect what the Constitution means,” declared Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan.
“We’re interested in making sure every child has a great public education,” said Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.
Governor Bobby Jindal issued a statement saying, “This ruling means that the Scholarship Program is alive and well. We’re disappointed the funding mechanism was rejected, but we are committed to making sure this program continues and we will fund it through the budget.”
That could be a huge task, as state lawmakers have less than a month left in the current session. They’re already disagreeing over how to fill a projected $1.3 billion budget deficit for the next fiscal year. Plus, the ruling opens up a budget hole that could total $50 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Plaintiff’s attorney Brian Blackwell says the state should ask the voucher schools to refund all the money they’ve already received.
“We call upon Governor Jindal and his administration to make sure that all of the unconstitutionally funded moneys are returned, and they’re returned immediately,” said Blackwell. He then went on to warn that additional lawsuits could be filed if the state does not restore the voucher funds to the public schools.