School may be out, but teachers unions, an education board, and the state of Louisiana are spending their summer days in court. The groups will be sorting through challenges to the state’s new education reform laws passed earlier this spring.
Both of the state’s teachers unions—the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE)—filed separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Act 2 of 2012, sometimes referred to as the “voucher law.” The law changes teacher tenure, increases voucher opportunities for students in the state, and fosters charter school growth in Louisiana.
Vouchers allow many students the chance to go to private school, and provide funds if they home-school, attend online or virtual schools, or attend college if they graduate high school early. Vouchers give students opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise, according to Les Landon, director of public relations for LFT.
The problem, according to the plaintiffs and reform bill opponents, is that the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) will be used as a source for funding, which the suit claims violates the Louisiana constitution.
Act 2 “created a statewide voucher program using the MFP,” Landon said. “The constitution … says that the MFP can only be used to fund public schools and public school systems.”
Landon added that “Louisiana has had a voucher program for a few years, [and] it’s been funded out of the state general fund. But when the governor tried to put that into the MFP, it violated the constitution.”
MFP funding uses a mathematical process, where the state determines a minimum amount to be spent on a student’s public education, and that amount averages at least $5,053 per student, according to the Louisiana Department of Education’s (LDOE) website.
Landon said the MFP can get complicated, but it’s partly based on money pooled from local taxes, the state legislature, and federal funding. The money is doled out to each school district and the district decides how it’s used.
There are a few variables. A district with a lower tax base may receive a little more money, and students who have special education needs or require lunch assistance may also see more funding, according to Landon.
In total, Louisiana has nearly $3.4 billion in the pot—enough for 672,867 students to be covered by the MFP.
With only so much money to go around, the education department says they want to make the most of it. According to the LDOE’s website, the department must ensure that public funds are used to support initiatives with a “demonstrated track record of success,” and advocates for programs “that will most benefit students.”
In addition to funding concerns, Landon said that the scores of bundled bills were hustled through the legislative process, leaving no room for debate or discussion.
Defendants will have their say later this month—a Baton Rouge judge will hear from the state of Louisiana and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on July 10—but plaintiffs want the new education laws put on hold until the court reaches a decision. On July 24, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will ask for a preliminary injunction, or a temporary court order to stop the vouchers until the judicial process plays out.
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