If a defeat for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s position, the governor and other backers of state vouchers for private school tuition can take considerable comfort in a narrowly focused decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
In a 6-1 ruling, the court upheld a lower court ruling that the constitution forbids vouchers paid for from public funds from the Minimum Foundation Program, the principal state aid to public schools. But the court’s ruling specifically did not forbid use of other public funds for private school vouchers, and so the way is clear for the second year of a statewide voucher program.
About 8,000 students are signed up for the program’s second year. The hitch is that the court ruling means that the governor and backers of vouchers must persuade the Legislature to come up with money for vouchers elsewhere in the state budget.
While a tall order, given the disarray in the state’s finances, it is not impossible.
Both sides of the voucher debate have chosen to misinterpret the 19th District Court ruling on the use of MFP funding. The constitution specifically dedicates the MFP for public schools and school districts. That can hardly be interpreted as being for or against the interests of children, as overheated rhetoric about the case has suggested.
Indeed, we see no other way the court could have ruled, given the plain language of the constitution on this point.
If state funding is found for this, one of the governor’s signature programs, then we think it might be more legitimate to ask why it was not done earlier, as the governor can and should read the constitution before enrolling students in a program with a manifestly suspect funding source.
And if there is money like this around in the state budget, should it go to private schools in the first place? That’s an appropriate political question and one that is not at all foreclosed from discussion by the Supreme Court’s ruling.