Court Denies Unions and School Boards’ Request to Stop Louisiana’s Innovative School Choice Program

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 9, 2012

Arlington, Va.—This morning, the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge denied the request by teachers’ unions and schools boards to temporarily halt Louisiana’s new school choice program. Ruling from the bench, Judge Timothy Kelley concluded that Louisiana law prevented him from issuing an order that would cause a state agency to go into deficit. The judge’s ruling means that the state can continue to implement the program while the case makes its way through the Louisiana state courts. More importantly, it means that students using scholarships in New Orleans’ preexisting program can continue to do so. Had the unions and school boards succeeded in stopping the program in New Orleans, the result would have been a devastating disruption to their education. The case is Louisiana Federation of Teachers et al. v. State.

In April 2012, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law Act 2, his innovative effort to improve elementary and secondary education in Louisiana by giving parents more choices in the education of their children. Almost immediately, two teachers’ unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, as well as the Louisiana School Boards Association filed suit against it in order to preserve the educational status quo. They sought to halt the program during the time that the courts consider the constitutionality of the law. Judge Kelley’s decision today means that the preexisting program in New Orleans can continue and that private schools and parents can begin to participate in the program as it is implemented in the other parts of the state. More than 5,000 applications from new families have been received, as well as renewal applications from the nearly 2,000 families in the preexisting New Orleans program.

The judge’s ruling came a day after he granted the request for two New Orleans parents, Valerie Evans and Kendra Palmer, as well as two state-wide organizations, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Alliance for School Choice, to intervene in the case to support the program. The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice, has filed papers seeking permission to represent these parents and organizations in the case. Should IJ’s request be granted, it would join local counsel Greg Grimsal and Elizabeth Spurgeon, both of the New Orleans firm of Gordon Arata, in representing the parents and organizations. Jimmy Faircloth of the Faircloth Law Group, LLC, successfully argued the case for the state at this morning’s hearing.

“Today’s decision is a significant victory for kids trapped in inadequate public schools in Louisiana,” Bill Maurer, an IJ attorney said. “It allows parents and children consigned to underperforming and failing schools to access alternatives without having to wait for the courts to come to a final conclusion in the case. For students receiving an inadequate education in public schools, the decision means that they do not have to wait to have a chance at a quality education.”

Maurer continued, “The court’s decision today is not the final decision in the case, however. A full consideration on the merits is expected to occur sometime this summer. Until then, however, parents in Louisiana can choose the school that can best provide their children with the education to which they are entitled. And it keeps the New Orleans’ program going without disrupting the education of those students who are already experiencing its benefits.”

The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm located in Arlington, Va., successfully represented parents as intervenors in both school choice cases considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) and Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (2011), as well as in cases upholding school choice programs decided by the supreme courts of Arizona, Ohio and Wisconsin.