A Louisiana judge won’t stop the state’s controversial school voucher system from going into effect next month. District Judge Tim Kelley ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to provide the injunction sought by the voucher program’s opponents, citing a Louisiana law prohibiting injunctions that state officials claim will create a deficit.
Superintendent John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater made just such a claim, saying that enacting an injunction on the voucher program, for which 8,000 students have already applied, would lead to a $3.4 billion hole in the state’s education budget.The figure stems from the $3.4 billion Louisiana currently spends on state aid for school operations via the Minimum Foundation Program. Jimmy Faircloth, who represented the state during Tuesday’s hearing, said it was “unavoidable and factually inescapable” that the proposed injunction would lead to the ten-figure deficit. “It’s just indisputable,” he said, according to Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
However, as Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “That’s just kind of crazy. … There’s no way that not spending money can cause a deficit. When you don’t fund something, you can’t have a deficit. There’s no deficit if you can’t spend.” Blackwell pointed out that the funds have already been sent to the Department of Education and that an injunction would merely prevent the money from being distributed.
Additionally, because the size of the state’s Minimum Foundation Program has grown since 2011, Blackwell notes — according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune — that using last year’s funding formula, which Louisiana would utilize if the state legislature could not agree upon a new one, would leave tens of millions of dollars as surplus for the DoE.
Tuesday’s ruling will not impede the lawsuit put forth by the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and the Louisiana School Boards Association, as well as dozens of additional school boards, also set to be heard by Kelley. Despite allowing the program to go forward, the judge assured the plaintiffs that Tuesday’s ruling was not a reflection of their claims, saying, “I’m not pooh-poohing your argument at all.”
While a court date has not yet been determined for suit, Kelley said the hearing would be held on an expedited basis. Steve Monaghan, president of the LFT, said the plaintiffs may appeal Kelley’s injunction ruling, depending on the date of the forthcoming trial.
In addition to challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program, the lawsuit contends that the new funding program did not gather the necessary amount of votes for implementation.
Plaintiffs claim that the funds are in a Senate concurrent resolution, as lawmakers did not tally the 53 votes necessary to pass a bill. Likewise, Kelley noted that both he and his clerk could “not find anything that says a resolution is equal to a statute.” But the judge nonetheless blocked the injunction, and for now the lawsuit and program both move forward.