Court nixes Tangipahoa’s request for delay in voucher case

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied the Tangipahoa Parish School Board’s request for a delay in an appellate case challenging the state’s voucher program.

The School Board’s request, filed Tuesday, sought to delay the appeals case pending the outcome of a related state court proceeding at the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The School Board said the issues it has raised about the voucher program would be moot if the state Supreme Court upholds a 19th Judicial District Court ruling that the program unconstitutionally diverts Minimum Foundation Program funds from the state’s public schools.

The board requested that its April 15 deadline for filing a brief in the federal appellate case be pushed back to 10 days following the state Supreme Court’s ruling. However, the 5th Circuit denied that request, saying the School Board must stick to the briefing schedule.

A similar motion to stay, filed Thursday at the federal district court level, has not yet been ruled on by U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle, who oversees the 47-year-old desegregation case in which the state law challenge was filed.

The School Board requested an injunction in September against the state voucher program, embodied in Act 2, arguing that it deprived the district of funding needed to carry out its court-ordered desegregation plan.

Plaintiffs in the desegregation case agreed, adding that the program also encouraged “white flight” from public schools and disrupted the student population projections on which the plan was based.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys also argued that the teacher evaluation laws within Act 1 failed to take into account court orders regarding the recruitment and retention of black teachers in Tangipahoa Parish.

Following oral arguments in November, Judge Lemelle agreed and granted a preliminary injunction against implementation of both acts within Tangipahoa Parish.

The state Department of Education appealed that ruling to the 5th Circuit, arguing that the federal District Court had no right to intervene in state decision-making due to state sovereignty guaranteed under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The state also argued that the court should have refrained from ruling, pending the outcome of a state court challenge to the voucher program.