Louisiana Trial Court Strikes Down School Choice Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 30, 2012

Arlington, Va.—The 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge today struck down Louisiana’s transformative Act 2 as unconstitutional. In a 39-page written opinion issued less than three hours after the two-and-a-half-day-long trial over the program concluded, the Honorable Judge Tim Kelleyruled the Louisiana Constitution allows scholarship programs, but wrongly concluded that they could not be funded through the “Minimum Foundation Program,” known as the MFP, which is the formula under which per pupil public education funds are calculated. The Institute for Justice and the state of Louisiana, which are defending the program in court, will appeal the case directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which the state may do as a right, bypassing the state appeals court. The appeal with the state Supreme Court will seek to suspend the trial judge’s order, thereby allowing the 5,000 students currently using the choice program to remain in their schools throughout the appeal.

“We have strong grounds for an appeal,” said Bill Maurer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents the families using the program. “There are clear precedents that allow this program—and many otherslike it that already exist—to be funded through this means. Simply put, the trial court’s ruling is inconsistent with Louisiana precedents, with the state’s laws and with its Constitution.”

Dick Komer, an IJ senior attorney, said, “If Louisiana can fund a host of educational options for students at non-district schools, which it does, it can fund Act 2’s scholarships as well. Act 2 is perfectly consistent with what Louisiana is already doing not only in providing private school choice, but how it funds that choice.”

“Why is the source of funding for the choice program so important to the local school boards and the two teachers’ unions who are challenging the program?” Maurer asked. “Because, as it stands now, this little program, which represents well under one percent of the money the state spends on education, would be automatically funded when the general appropriation for education is funded by the state. What the unions want to see is that the funding for this program becomes a political football to be fought over year after year. They would much rather nip this minute challenge to their authority in the bud than go about the hard work of actually reforming the hundreds and hundreds of public schools across the state that fail to deliver anything close to a quality education to the school kids now consigned to those schools.”

Maurer concluded, “We look forward to vindicating this program in the Louisiana Supreme Court.”