Arlington, Va.—The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice today announced the creation of the Louisiana Defense Fund in response to a letter last week from the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) that threatened to sue private schools that participate in the state’s newly expanded school choice program.
The Alliance—the leading national organization promoting and implementing school choice programs nationwide—was joined by the Institute for Justice (IJ)—the nation’s leading legal advocates for school choice—in announcing the creation of the defense fund to protect Louisiana schools against legal threats from the local teachers union.
Rather than work to improve failing and underperforming schools across the state, earlier this month, the Louisiana Association of Educators sent letters threatening to sue private schools that accept public school students using government scholarships under 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 LAE asserted 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 letters state that the LAE will “take whatever means necessary” to prevent the private schools from accepting students using the scholarship funds.
In response to the unprecedented tactic from the teachers union, the Alliance hired Barry W. Ashe of the New Orleans-based law firm Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, LLC, to defend the school choice program’s implementation. In a letter to participating schools today, the Alliance made clear that the LAE has no legal claim against the private schools, and if the union tries to bring a claim, the costs necessary to defend the litigation will be paid out of the defense fund.
Kevin P. Chavous, a senior advisor to the Alliance, said that the establishment of the defense fund is a message to schools across the state that reformers will stand up in the face of intimidation tactics from special interests.
“We’re not only standing with the schools of Louisiana,” Chavous said, “but most importantly, we’re standing with the thousands of parents all across the state who deserve the opportunity to choose the best educational environment for their children.”
“The unions and their allies have been losing in court and are now resorting to threats in a transparent attempt to minimize the exodus from failing schools they no doubt see coming. The bottom line here is that the unions’ threats are groundless,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Bill Maurer. “And the fund means private schools can stay the course, welcome in children from across the state, and give them the kind of high-quality education the union-dominated educational establishment has proven itself incapable of delivering up until now without having to worry about the cost of defending themselves from a frivolous suit.”
“Organizations that continue to bring baseless challenges against this program should be ashamed of themselves,” said Eddie Rispone, chairman of the Louisiana Federation for Children, a partner organization of the Alliance for School Choice. “In the end, we’re confident that the kids and their families will prevail.”
The Department of Education announced the extension of 5,637 scholarship offers to students to participate in the program this fall—just a portion of the 10,300 applications the Department received—illustrating that attempts to stop schools from participating in the program are at odds with extremely strong demand from parents.
The trial to determine the constitutionality of the program is set to begin on October 15 in Baton Rouge.