I feel some apologies are in order for my regular readers. (I’ve been chastized by several recently for slacking.) Due to some personal issues, some of which involved a nasty run-in with an even nastier stomach virus, I have been out of commission for the last few weeks.
Meanwhile a number of very exciting changes have taken place in the anti-reform and anti-Jindal landscape.
For starters, a judge this ruled on November 26th in Tangipahoa that the Louisiana State voucher law violates an existing desegregation court order.
The ruling could have implications for the statewide program throughout Louisiana, since more than 30 of the 69 parish and city school districts are under federal desegregation orders, according to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
Many of those parishes also are participating in the voucher program, which covers 4,900 students around the state.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that a series of sweeping education changes pushed by Jindal and passed by lawmakers earlier this year clash with court orders in Tangipahoa’s 47-year-old desegregation case.
Lemelle ordered a halt in Tangipahoa Parish, about 60 miles east of Baton Rouge, to the voucher program and changes in laws governing teacher salaries, job protection and hiring and firing.
The voucher program pays private school tuition for some students from low-performing schools. School-system attorneys argue it diverts state money from local schools and from efforts to comply with orders in the 1965 desegregation case seeking equal treatment and funding for all students.
I imagine this is only the first of what appear to be as many as 30 additional possible suits that can be filed over this case.
This is a federal judge, not a state judge, so Jindal should have less leeway with bullying Ivan Lemelle, and other federal judges that may hear similar cases. My expectation is that the state will be appeal this to a higher level circuit court to try and prevent an avalanche of similar cases and patchwork quilt of disparate rulings. In the meantime I would expect the state to have to start considering picking up the tab directly for these students if they want to pursue vouchers on this basis. Additionally, this should give non-public operators pause about accepting new students going forward until some of these issues are resolved.
I’ve read numerous articles stating non-public operators should consider awarding scholarships for impacted students, but that option definitely won’t be a viable option for any operator who opened up just to cash in on this voucher payday. Other possibilities mentioned are asking the parents to foot the remaining portion of the bill, that idea should put a damper on parents agreeing to participate in this program as eagerly going forward.
The second nice little piece of news came on the voucher funding constitutionality front.
On November 30th, State District Judge Tim Kelly ruled that designating the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program – the constitutionally defined funding formula for public schools) as the funding source for vouchers was unconstitutional. This ruling would not prohibit Jindal and the legislature from continuing to fund vouchers from another funding mechanism, such as the general fund, or out of other Department of Education funding. This has always been the case. The reason Jindal and White wanted to use the MFP formula is twofold:
- Jindal needs to be able to pretend he is reining in spending (during a fiscal crunch he created) so he can burnish his credentials for a 2016 Presidential run
- Jindal wants make his school reform package look better that it will ever be using my favorite holiday dieting technique (Make everyone else fatter with holiday cakes and cookies so you look thinner!) Although in reverse this means starving the public school systems and burden them down with regulations and testing to drive off good teachers and students and make them suffer, thus making private options seem better by comparison.
As if these two arguments were not enough there is another argument or lawsuit in the wings, possibly from St Tammany.
This third lawsuit-to-be will be in regards to whether the State can “double-dip” into the MFP formula and take approximately twice as many dollars from local school districts per student as the state actually funds per student.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone.
The Department of Education has started doing this on a small scale a few years ago (for SSD (special school district), A02 (Juvenile Justice), and Type II and Type V charter schools), and sadly many impacted school districts have not caught on to where their funds are going. The state does not collect the local dollars, but local districts are required to report their annual tax dollar allocations to the state. The state deducts an extra helping of State MFP dollars (about equal to amount it provides for MFP) to the various state schools and type II and V charters that were previously funded separately from the general fund. This is done by using the address of the enrolled student to calculate what parish the student resides in. The state then basically deducts two helpings from that LEA, for a student that does not get factored into their base count. The base MFP allocation does not go up, the state no longer pays for the various state and charter schools it previously funded as line items, and traditional school districts take a big hit to their overall funding. This fact probably gets hidden in a lowered per pupil funding calculation that the LEA business managers don’t understand fully, but the net effect is more funding for charter schools and less for traditional districts. The State is planning to duplicate this success and calculation with all charter schools and the voucher programs. I’ve been warning people about this for almost a year now, but if this gets ahead of them this will bankrupt many school districts overnight. Check out a crude little post an graph I produced on this topic recently.
I hope people don’t breathe too easily after these early victories and continue to aggressively pounce on this destructive Jindal agenda while it is being pinned to the ropes and public support for these initiatives is very low.