The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled 6-1 that the funding method for the private school tuition voucher program approved by the Legislature last year is unconstitutional under La. Const. art. VIII, Sect. 13(B). The decision leaves uncertain the status of the approximately 8,000 students who had been approved for vouchers for the 2013-2014 school year.
In Louisiana Federation of Teachers et al. (No. 2013-CA-0120), the Court held that once funds are dedicated to the state’s Minimum Foundation Program for public education, the Constitution prohibits the use of those funds for the tuition costs of nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities. The Court reasoned that it could not sanction the voucher program’s funding method when the source of those funds specifically mandated that they be spent on public education. The Court rejected the argument that the voucher program violated the constitutional requirement that a legislative bill have only “one object.”
The voucher program was part of a 2012 school reform program that allowed the State to offer vouchers to a large number of Louisiana students and to expand the number of privately managed charter schools.
The Jindal administration has pledged to continue the program. In response to the ruling, Jindal stated, “We’re disappointed the funding mechanism was rejected, but we are committed to making sure this program continues and we will fund it through the budget.”
The passing of the voucher program legislation was a high-profile affair prominently covered by local and even national media. In this context, the Court felt it advisable to confirm the Supreme Court’s role in approving or rejecting legislation. The first page of the opinion includes the following quote:
The determination of how to best provide for the education of children is not the role of the court in this matter. We defer that determination to those more learned in the fields of education and public policy. The court’s role is to evaluate the law set forth in the constitution to determine whether the matters addressed by the legislature comply with the relevant constitutional provisions and “not to legislate social policy on the basis of our own personal inclinations.” State v. Smith, 99-0606, 99-2094, 99-2015, 99-2019, p. 11 (La. 7/6/00), 766 So. 2d 501, 510. [Emphasis added]
One might reasonably expect that this will not be the last time the Louisiana Supreme Court will be asked to consider the voucher program.