Arlington, Va.—Faced with an exodus of students from failing public schools, a Louisiana teachers’ union has resorted to sending letters threatening to sue private schools that accept public school students using government scholarships. The move comes as the union and other entrenched interests seeking to preserve the educational status quo lost another round in court in their efforts to block implementation of Act 2, Governor Bobby Jindal’s innovative effort to improve elementary and secondary education in Louisiana by giving parents more choices in educating their children.
In letters sent on or around July 25, 2012, to private schools across state, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) asserts that if private schools accept students using scholarships provided by Act 2, the LAE “will have no alternative other than to institute litigation” against each school. The letter states that the LAE will “take whatever means necessary” to prevent the private schools from accepting students using the scholarship funds. Under Act 2, students who attend public schools that are rated C, D and F and who meet income rules qualify for scholarships to pay for tuition and mandatory fees at private and parochial schools.
The LAE, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and the Louisiana School Boards’ Association (LSBA) have sued in state court to stop the implementation of Act 2. The Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading legal defender of school choice programs, represents parents and organizations that have intervened in the case to help defend the program. Specifically, IJ represents Valerie Evans and Kendra Palmer, two New Orleans parents whose children attend private schools thanks to the scholarship, as well the Alliance for School Choice and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, two organizations that have long advocated for greater choice in Louisiana.
IJ Attorney Bill Maurer said, “Apparently, even the LAE recognizes that many public schools are doing a poor job educating children because they believe the only way to keep kids in public schools is to sue the private schools that would take them. If the LAE was confident that the public schools of Louisiana could compete with private alternatives, threats like this letter would be unnecessary.”
The LAE’s attempt to keep kids in underperforming and failing public schools by bullying private schools comes as the Louisiana Court of Appeals, First Circuit, turned down the latest effort by the unions and the LSBA to halt implementation of Act 2. Earlier in July, Judge Timothy Kelley of the Louisiana District Court concluded that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the LAE, LFT and LSBA’s request to enjoin the program because to do so would cause a deficit in the state budget. On July 24, 2012, the unions and school boards asked the Court of Appeals to review Judge Kelley’s decision. The very next day—before the state and the parties represented by IJ even had a chance to respond—the Court of Appeals denied the request.
Maurer continued, “The unions and school boards have failed again to get a court to stop parents and students at underperforming and failing public schools from voting with their feet and seeking a quality education at private schools. Unfortunately, what they’ve been unable to achieve through litigation they are now attempting to achieve through threats of litigation. These letters simply show the lengths to which the educational bureaucracy will go to insulate itself from competition.”
While the unions and school boards’ association continue their attempt to convince the appellate courts to hear their challenge to Judge Kelley’s ruling regarding an injunction, the question of the constitutionality of Act 2 is still being litigated at the trial court, with trial in the case set to begin October 15, 2012, in front of Judge Kelley.
Maurer concluded, “Act 2 is constitutional under the Louisiana Constitution. These attempts to bully private schools from educating children ill-served by the public schools are simply a way for those invested in the current unacceptable state of public education in this state to avoid competition and change. But the children in these public schools cannot wait any longer and no threat of litigation, no matter how desperate, will keep parents and kids from making the decisions that are right for them.”