BATON ROUGE, La. – Gov. Bobby Jindal's voucher program that uses tax dollars to send students to private schools was ruled unconstitutional Friday by a state judge who said it's improperly funded through the public school financing formula.
Judge Tim Kelley sided with arguments presented by teacher unions and school boards seeking to shut down the voucher program and other changes that would funnel more money away from traditional public schools.
More than 4,900 students are enrolled in 117 private schools with taxpayer dollars, in one of the largest voucher programs in the nation.
The judge said the method the Jindal administration, state education leaders and lawmakers used to pay for the voucher program violates state constitutional provisions governing the annual education funding formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP.
"The MFP was set up for students attending public elementary and secondary schools and was never meant to be diverted to private educational providers," Kelley wrote in a 39-page ruling.
Superintendent of Education John White and Jindal said the state will appeal.
Jindal called the judge's ruling "a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education."
"On behalf of the citizens that cast their votes for reform, the parents who want more choices, and the kids who deserve a chance, we will appeal today's decision, and I'm confident we will prevail," the governor said in a statement.
Bill Maurer, a lawyer representing two parents with children in the voucher program and two pro-voucher groups, said he believes the decision is "not consistent with the interpretation of the Louisiana Constitution."
Maurer said he didn't expect Kelley's ruling to immediately force voucher students from their private schools, because Kelley didn't issue an injunction against the program.
It was the second legal setback this week for the voucher program that Jindal pushed through the Legislature this year as part of a sweeping education system overhaul. On Monday, a federal judge halted the voucher program in one Louisiana parish, saying it conflicts with a decades-old desegregation case.
"The political rhetoric of 'pro-reform' vs. 'anti-reform' hopefully is over," said Scott Richard, head of the Louisiana School Boards Association. "We're not anti-reform. We just want the political shell game to stop with public funding for public education."