5th Circuit dismisses part of state’s appeal in voucher suit

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday partially dismissed the state Department of Education’s appeal of a November injunction that halted the state’s voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish.

The partial dismissal comes in light of the Louisiana Supreme Court ruling in May that the original funding mechanism for the voucher program — rerouting state Minimum Foundation Program dollars to private schools — was unconstitutional.

Months before the Supreme Court’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle in November granted an injunction on the voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish, saying it conflicted with the parish’s decades-old desegregation suit, which Lemelle also oversees.

Lemelle also blocked implementation in Tangipahoa of teacher tenure laws that were passed in the 2012 legislative session along with the voucher program.

The state appealed both injunctions to the 5th Circuit.

The tenure law is known as Act 1, and the voucher law is known as Act 2.

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board filed a motion June 4 to have the Act 2 portions of the Department of Education’s appeal dismissed, saying the state Supreme Court ruling rendered it moot.

The board also requested to be dismissed as a party in the appeal.

The Department of Education on June 14 said it had no problem with the dismissal, as long as Lemelle’s injunction was vacated as well.

The three-judge 5th Circuit panel dismissed the portion of the appeal related to Act 2 but took no action on the injunction.

The panel also dismissed the Tangipahoa Parish School Board as a party in the appeal.

Another 5th Circuit panel will examine at a later time whether the injunction should be vacated.

The issues related to Act 1 are still pending in court.

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board had argued in Lemelle’s court that the voucher program would divert MFP money that the school system would need to comply with court orders related to its decades-old desegregation suit that require the district to build new schools, improve existing facilities and maintain magnet programs.

The Department of Education argued at the appellate level that a federal court cannot interfere with a state’s financial decision-making because of state sovereign immunity granted under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The state also argued that Lemelle should have waited for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling.

Since the state Supreme Court decision, legislators in the 2013 session developed a voucher plan that uses general fund money and not MFP dollars.

Department of Education officials and the School Board’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment by press time.