At issue is funding provisions for vouchers in Tangipahoa
A federal judge in New Orleans has ordered state Superintendent of Education John White to appear in court Tuesday to explain why the funding provisions of the state’s new voucher program should not be halted in Tangipahoa Parish.
The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, comes in response to the Tangipahoa Parish School Board’s request for an injunction in its decades-old desegregation suit.
The School Board argued in a Sept. 24 motion that the state’s diversion of Minimum Foundation Program funds from the school district to voucher program enrollees frustrates the district’s ability to build new schools, improve existing facilities and maintain magnet programs as required under court orders in the case.
Lemelle ordered White, the Louisiana Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to appear in court to respond to the School Board’s contentions.
The Education Department had not yet been served with the order by Tuesday evening, spokesman Barry Landry said. The department is not otherwise a party to the lawsuit.
Lemelle signed the order Oct. 17, but writs were not issued until Monday, according to court records.
The Education Department maintains that local funds are not used to support the voucher program.
“The law is clear that there are no local dollars going to the scholarship program and these local communities are not required to pay a single penny to fund the scholarship program,” Landry said in an email.
The law at issue is Act 2 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, which allows students enrolled in schools the state Education Department has graded C, D or F to attend private or other public schools, be home-schooled or enroll in other classes offered by certain course providers.
Under the act, when a student leaves a low-performing public school for another program, the state Minimum Foundation Program funds that would have gone to the public school district for that student are instead forwarded to the school or program in which the student enrolls.
The School Board asked the court to issue an injunction against those provisions of state law and to order the state to restore any previously diverted funding if a voucher student re-enrolls in the district’s schools.
More than 16,600 students in the district attended schools rated C, D or F in 2011-12, the School Board said in its motion.
In addition, the district’s general fund deficit for 2012-13 is about $1.3 million and is projected to be more than $8 million next year, the board argued.
“Given the financial position of the school system and its obligations under (the court’s) order, the absence of such funds will preclude the school system from faithfully implementing court orders or will require that essential maintenance to school facilities not be made when required,” the board argued.
The court on Tuesday will also address concerns the School Board raised in an Oct. 16 motion for a status conference, regarding possible modifications to the court’s orders.