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A Setback for Louisiana

As you may recall, Bobby Jindal has started a large voucher program for Louisiana schools. I’ve expressed support for this, even though some schools eligible for vouchers are teaching creationism. My point is that if it’s a choice between schools that don’t teach evolution and schools that don’t teach anything, that’s not really a choice. And it’s absurd to take some of the more nutty religious schools and claim this represents the entire system.

Yesterday, a Republican judge ruled the program unconstitutional. But it appears to be a much narrower ruling than the Left was hoping for (and thinks it is):

Kelley said the method the Jindal administration, state education leaders and lawmakers used to pay for the voucher program violates state constitutional provisions governing the annual education funding formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP.

“The MFP was set up for students attending public elementary and secondary schools and was never meant to be diverted to private educational providers,” Kelley wrote in a 39-page ruling.

Kelley, a Republican, didn’t rule on whether it’s appropriate to spend state tax dollars on private school tuition, leaving open the possibility for lawmakers to pay for the program in a different way. His decision was narrowly focused on the financing mechanism chosen by the GOP governor and approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and lawmakers.

Note what he did not do: he did not rule that vouchers can not be done because they go to religious schools, an issue the Supreme Court already ruled on in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. So this has nothing to do with fundamentalism, evolution or religion. It is a matter of fiscal law.

I’m not a lawyer, least of all one in Louisiana, so I don’t know if Kelley is right on this. I suspect, given the narrowness of the ruling, he is right and the Louisiana legislature is going to have to find another way to do this (and provoke an entirely new spate of cartel-defending lawsuits).

What is striking, however, is the glee with which this ruling has been received on a number of Left wing blogs. The writers don’t really seem to care what this means for the rotten Louisiana school system (which actually spends more per student than neighboring states). All they seem to care about is that this is a defeat for Bobby Jindal and the evil religious nutbags.

I do think the critics make one valid point: vouchers are not a “magic bullet” that can cure our schools. In the end, the most important factor is having parents who are involved and committed to their child’s education. But I do think a voucher system gives those parents who are involved more power and leverage over the system. Not power over the teachers, mind you, who need some independence; but power over the over-arching administrative nightmare makes public schools difficult for students, parents and teachers.

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