Louisiana Court Rejects Funding Formula; Texas Lawmakers Reject Choice
By Mike Klein
This week’s Louisiana Supreme Court opinion that struck down a school choice funding formula finds the usual suspects who want to prevent families from using their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice. As we saw in Georgia, people who stand in opposition to expanded school choice believe the money belongs to them, which is a big brother knows best mentality.
Some Louisiana background: The state was in education chaos before Hurricane Katrina swept through eight years ago. The unanticipated blessing from that life changing hurricane was that it gave the state, communities and families an opportunity to rebuild horrible school systems, notably in New Orleans.
Especially during current Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure Louisiana has started to reinvent education with the idea that when you start with a clean slate, you might improve over what was there earlier.
This, of course, is a free market education idea so it stands to reason that people who want to continue the big-brother-knows-best mentality would be none too pleased at bolder and fresher ideas. One among several ideas was Jindal’s creation of a voucher scholarship program that provided 5,000 low income students the opportunity for expanded school choice somewhere other than their local brick-and-mortar neighborhood school. Louisiana Scholarship Program enrollment for next fall would be 8,000 students or about two-thirds of all pupils who applied.
You can guess who got uptight and went to court; that would be the associations that represent Louisiana teachers and public school system boards of education. These are the same kinds of organizations that went to court in Georgia after the 2008 General Assembly created a path and the funding formula for expanded charter school options. In Georgia, you can throw in the very vocal association for state superintendents that fought furiously to overturn the state law.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled against the creation of a charter schools alternate authorizer. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against the vouchers funding formula without making a comment on school choice proper, but the effect unless somehow remedied would be to reduce options for families. Georgia lost its leadership position on school choice but fortunately last November voters here sent a different message when they reinstated the idea of an alternate authorizer, meaning a new State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia that began its work this spring.
Louisiana’s Governor – who many believe has White House aspirations – issued a statement that tried to assure families the state budget will find the money to keep choice alive although Jindal’s initial statement did not provide any additional detail about how to make that possible.
School choice – the bigger idea of it at all – is no longer in question. Whatever you think about the current White House administration, the President, the Department of Education and the Republican and Democratic national party platforms are all on board with school choice. There are still those trying to erect roadblocks and overall, school choice work certainly is not done.
The appetite for new aggressive school choice legislation was limited during this year’s Georgia General Assembly. Most wind went out of the sails after last year’s bitterly contested effort that resulted in the constitutional amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved last November.
An enhanced tax credit scholarship bill passed, as did a clean-up of the existing special needs scholarship. A “parent trigger bill” that would allow parents or school personnel the right to convert failing traditional public schools to charter schools passed the House.
What legislatures and state courts are doing with school choice across the country is a muddle. School choice advocates in Texas cannot get their bills through the House which rejected a bill last month. This legislative recalcitrance goes against the grain of Texans. A Texas Public Policy Foundation study published last week said two-thirds of Texans favor the creation of statewide education scholarships and 72 percent favor business tax credits for private schools.
Contrast the Louisiana and Georgia judicial experiences with Indiana where the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously – the vote was 5-0 – in April that public tax dollars could be used to fund private school tuition. The Louisiana Supreme Court vote was nearly unanimous – 6-1 to strike down using public tax dollars to fund private school tuition in a vouchers program.
Families must be allowed to use their tax-paid dollars to send their children to the schools of their choice. Not the government’s choice, not the choice of school boards or unions that represent teachers. It is their choice, the folks who actually paid the tax dollars. Keep Choice Alive!
(Click here to read the new Friedman Foundation analysis “A Win-Win Solution — The Empirical Evidence on School Choice” that examines the impact on students and communities.)