Lawsuit seeks nearly $200 million for public schools

A New Orleans area school board and others are suing the state for $200 million because of what they call a series of flawed education funding laws, officials said Monday.

The lawsuit says that school aid plans approved by the Legislature in 2010, 2011 and 2012 all had problems and were essentially void from the outset.

As a result of those glitches, the challenge says, public schools were entitled to state aid hikes each year, not the freeze in funding that went on for four years.

“And of course the Legislature had a chance to correct this session and chose not to do so,” said Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the groups.

The challenge, filed Friday in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, was done so on behalf of the St. John the Baptist School Board, the Louisiana Association of Educators, which is a teachers’ union, and a wide range of local LAE affiliates.

Attorneys hope to make the case a class action challenge on behalf of local school boards statewide.

Defendants are the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Department of Education.

The initial court hearing is set for Sept. 23.

The challenge stems in part from a ruling by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, which won attention because it struck down the way Louisiana’s expanded voucher program was financed.

But the same ruling also tossed out the 2012-13 school aid plan — it is called the Minimum Foundation Program — because the court said it was not filed in the Legislature in time, among other problems.

The lawsuit says school aid resolutions approved by lawmakers in 2011 and 2010 were similarly flawed, and that the 2009 plan is the most recent one that was passed properly.

That means state aid for public schools should have risen by 2.75 percent in 2010, 2011 and 2012, with $200 million being the state’s share of those hikes, according to the lawsuit.

Asked if state Superintendent of Education John White wanted to comment Barry Landry, a spokesman for the department, noted that the Legislature provided about $100 million for public schools for the 2013-14 school year.

“While it is the Legislature that appropriates funds, not the Department of Education, we can provide the court testimony and information to assist in resolving this issue,” Landry said in a prepared statement.

A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said his office had no comment.

State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, former chairman of the House Education Committee and sponsor of two of the resolutions in question, did not respond to a request for comment.

BESE approves the annual school aid request, which is then submitted to the Legislature.

The case is assigned to 19th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Caldwell, who struck down the state’s method for funding vouchers, which was later upheld by the state Supreme Court.

That lawsuit was also filed by the LAE, among others.

The latest filing says local school districts are due substantial dollars.

That includes $12.7 million for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system; $5.7 million for the Ascension Parish School District and $7.1 million for the Livingston Parish school system, according to the lawsuit.

The Orleans and Lafayette parishes school systems are entitled to $12.1 million and $8.3 million respectively.

The lawsuit says that, if the court disagrees with the request for three years of back funding, public schools are entitled to $65 million because of problems with the 2012-13 aid package struck down by the state Supreme Court.

Earlier this year a school aid package for the 2013-14 school year died in the Senate Education Committee.

That will force the state to use the funding plan for the 2011-12 school year instead.