After a series of school choice victories across the nation, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a disappointing ruling this Tuesday when it upheld a lower court’s ruling invalidating the state’s school voucher program.
With a 6-1 vote, the higher court declared the funding mechanism for Governor Bobby Jindal’s (R) 2012 private school tuition voucher program violated the Louisiana constitution on grounds that the funds used were earmarked for public education only. The ruling jeopardizes the educational opportunity of the 5,000 children who currently receive vouchers to attend a private school of choice.
Thanks to the vouchers, thousands of children from low-income to middle-income families across Louisiana were able to receive scholarships to allow them to leave underperforming public schools, providing a lifeline for families seeking brighter educational opportunities. As the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice notes:
Nearly 5,000 children are currently using the state’s voucher program to attend a parochial or private school. Some 8,000 students recently were approved by the state to receive vouchers in the 2013–2014 school year. It was unclear if these children would be forced to return to public school in the fall, as the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled, the program violated the state’s funding formula and constitution.
In 2011, a Black Alliance for Education Opportunities (BAEO) survey showed that 93 percent of New Orleans parents were satisfied with the city’s voucher program (which Jindal expanded statewide the following year). And in 2012, nearly 10,400 parents applied to receive the scholarship for their children once the vouchers were expanded. The hundreds of parents who fought for the program’s creation also waited on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court this week, hoping for a favorable ruling. Student success stories detailed by the Louisiana Federation for Children explain why:
[The bullying] started affecting her grades a lot. She didn’t even want to go to school, and Abel would always try to take up for his sister and would get into trouble. [At their new school], Lauren’s happy. There’s no bullying. There’s no fighting. It’s made all three of them happy to be where they’re at. I see them going to college— they’re already talking about it, and it’s something they didn’t do before. I see a good future for them.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court clouds success stories like these. However, there is a ray of hope. Despite the ruling, state leaders still have room to expand the tuition tax credit program, launched in 2012, and continue their strong school choice record.
Jindal, who is expected to appeal the court’s decision, issued the following statement:
We are committed to making sure this program continues and we will fund it through the budget. The bottom line is that our kids only get one chance to grow up and we are committed to making sure choice is alive and families can send their children to the school of their choice.
Louisiana has been a leader in school choice, and should continue to strive to provide educational options for all children throughout the state. Across the nation, states are siding with choice. Courts in Indiana and Colorado recently upheld their voucher options as constitutional. Last month Alabama started its first tax credit school choice program. Proposals to create school choice options in Texas are pending. North Carolina is considering an expansion of their school choice programs, and Arizona is still leading the way in innovative options through customized education savings accounts.
In the words of Heritage’s Lindsey Burke:
School choice provides hope. It provides hope in the form of Rocketship Academy, a hybrid online learning charter school network. It provides hope in the form of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the pioneering Arizona initiative that allows parents to customize their child’s educational experience with control over education funding.
The fight for Louisiana’s voucher option will continue. As more and more parents across the nation become empowered with educational options, states should ensure as many choice options as possible are on the table for families: vouchers, tuition tax credits, online learning, charter schools, homeschooling, and education savings accounts.