Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the funding structure for the Louisiana Scholarship Program unconstitutional.
St. Charles Parish Public Schools was one of 44 school districts who joined the Louisiana School Board Association (LSBA) against the state in a lawsuit challenging the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), also known as the "voucher program." In the 2012-13 school year, $24 million in tuition that was originally meant for local public schools was allotted for about 5,000 private and parochial school scholarships statewide.
The 6-1 ruling was an overwhelming defeat for the Jindal administration who championed education reform last year with their centerpiece being the scholarship program.
John Smith, St. Charles Parish School Board District 5 member and president of the LSBA, said Gov. Bobby Jindal ignored early warnings that the funding structure was unconstitutional and pushed ahead.
"He lost at the lower court level and the governor said, ĎWe donít care what the lower court said, we are going to go ahead and do this anyway.í And now the Supreme Court says you canít do it," he said. "He had every indication that this was illegal. No money should have been spent until after the litigation had ended, in my judgment."
In the upcoming year, the state is set to expand the LSP program by around 3,000 scholarships for a total of $41 million in tuition.
In an email sent out to participating private schools, State Superintendent of Education John White said while the funding for the program was unconstitutional, the program itself was not.
"My staff and I will commence working with the administration and the legislature immediately to ensure that the program is funded through another vehicle," White said. "Iím sure students and families at your school have questions about the future of the program. We will be communicating with you frequently over the days and weeks ahead so that you can provide them the information they need."
While the Jindal administration scrambles to come up with an alternative funding proposal, the application period for next school year already opened on May 6 and is set to close on May 24. Students applying for the program should receive a notification on their application status during the week of June 10.
Given that funding for last year has already been dispersed, Jindal and White may have a bigger problem on their hands than just finding funding for this year.
Smith said while he does not want the private schools to return the tuition dollars that were given to them under the unconstitutional funding structure, he does expect the state to compensate the public schools for funds taken from them last school year.
"I believe that every dollar that was spent in an illegal way has to be returned to public school systems across the state where the money was taken from," he said.
Last year, a total of 27 students in St. Charles Parish received scholarships under the program for a tuition total of $95,765.
Boutte Christian Academy (BCA), with 17 LSP students, received the most scholarship recipients from St. Charles Parish. In fact, the school had to open another kindergarten class last year to accommodate the increased enrollment.
Kim Babineux, administrator of BCA, said she does not know what the future of the program holds.
"The Superintendent of Education John White has an email stating the program was found constitutional, but the funding structure was found unconstitutional. Thatís all I know about it," she said.
Despite the lack of current funding, Babineux said BCA is still encouraging parents to apply for the scholarships.