Single mother Valerie Evans said Monday she backs Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent expansion of the school voucher program because it allowed her to move her 11-year-old son out of a failing New Orleans public school and into a safer Catholic school.
“We need to make sure we stand up for something that’s going to give us the right results,” Evans, with son Gabriel at her side, said at a news conference outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse in Baton Rouge.
Evans and fellow parent Kendra Palmer, along with the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Alliance for School Choice, filed a petition Monday morning to intervene — aligned with the state — in a trio of lawsuits attacking the legality of two new education reform laws pushed by Jindal.
State District Judge Tim Kelley, who granted the intervention request Monday afternoon, is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday morning in the consolidated suits.
The suits by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana School Boards Association object to the use of the state’s public school financing formula to pay for tuition for some students to attend private and parochial schools.
The suits were filed last month and attack the legality of Act 2 — the so-called voucher bill, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 — the Minimum Foundation Program resolution, of the recently concluded legislative session.
Act 2 would, among other things, expand eligibility for some students in low-performing public schools to obtain state-financed vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
Bill Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, noted that more than 5,000 applications from new families have been received as well as renewal applications from the nearly 2,000 families in the pre-existing New Orleans program, since the recent enactment of the voucher bill.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Maurer said outside the Baton Rouge courthouse. “This gives parents the opportunity to vote with their feet.”
The Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the public interest law firm that represents the intervening parents and groups.
Maurer said the legal battle is not about funding but “a chance for a quality education.”
“The court needs to hear that,” he said.
“I believe that our fight for a quality education is paramount,” Evans added. “This is a good thing Gov. Jindal has done.”
Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said parents with children in failing schools have been told for too long to “suck it up.”
“We cannot have that situation in Louisiana,” he stressed.
The news conference participants ended the event with repeated chants of “Put kids first.”
Enacted in 2008 for New Orleans families with children in the state’s lowest-performing schools, the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) program has seen enrollment rise from 600 students in its first year to more than 1,800 participants during the 2011-2012 school year, the Alliance for School Choice says.
To qualify for the statewide program, children must have attended a public school rated “C,” “D,” or “F” by the state and come from a household not exceeding 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline ($57,625 for a family of four).