The Tangipahoa Parish School Board has asked a federal judge to stop the state from diverting district funds to schools that accept voucher students, but a plaintiffs’ attorney in the decades-old desegregation suit says the School Board’s effort doesn’t go far enough.
The law requiring that state funds follow the students away from parish schools frustrates the district’s efforts to comply with court orders in the parish’s 47-year-old desegregation suit, the board argues in a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.
In the motion, the board asks the court to join as defendants state Superintendent of Education John White, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Attorney Nelson Taylor, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the desegregation suit, said the court should go one step further and consider whether the voucher system as a whole impedes desegregation by disrupting the racial balance of court-ordered school attendance zones.
Taylor said he also supports a challenge to the state’s new regulations regarding the hiring and firing of school system personnel.
The law at issue in the School Board’s motion is part of Act 2 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Legislature, which allows students in schools the state Department of Education has rated C, D or F to attend other public or non-public schools, be home schooled or take online courses.
Under the act, the state Minimum Foundation Program funding that would have gone to the parish school system for that student is allocated instead to the school or program the student chooses to attend.
Thirty-two Tangipahoa Parish schools, with a combined enrollment of 16,639 students in 2011-12, have been rated as C, D or F schools, the School Board says in its motion.
The school system’s court-ordered desegregation plan requires the district to build four new schools and maintain several magnet programs throughout the parish, in addition to making improvements at existing school facilities.
In April 2011, parish voters overwhelmingly rejected a 29.5-mill tax package intended to fund the plan.
The district declared financial exigency and faces a deficit of $1.3 million for 2012-13, and a projected deficit of $8.1 million in 2013-14, according to the motion.
“In order to eventually achieve full compliance with the court’s order ..., the school system is in need of full funding through the state Minimum Foundation Program,” the board argues in its motion.
The board has requested an injunction stopping the funds transfer and requiring the state to refund all money diverted from the district immediately upon the return of any voucher student to the parish’s schools, regardless of when or why the student returns.
The court also should consider enjoining the provisions of the state’s education revision laws that deal with reduction in staff, Taylor said in an interview Friday.
“Those provisions don’t take into account the hiring of black teachers, and we have a court order in place to restore black teachers to the system,” Taylor said.
The School Board is required to actively recruit black teachers and reach a diversity goal of 40 percent black administrators, principals and supervisors, court records show.
“State law allows them to eliminate that, so we’re going to challenge the implementation of state law in the parishes where there are school desegregation orders in effect,” Taylor said.
“We’re not trying to knock out the entire law as unconstitutional,” Taylor said. “Just unconstitutional as applied in Tangipahoa Parish, and that would perhaps extend to other parishes under desegregation orders as well.”
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