Jindal’s Voucher Scheme Goes Down

I mentioned this briefly in the Lunch Buffet, but wanted to discuss it some more since it’s a big development in educational policy and politics: Bobby Jindal’s big and dangerous private school voucher program was declared unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court this morning on grounds that the state’s constitution prohibits diversion of public school funds. Danielle Drielinger of the New Orleans Times-Picayune has the details:

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program.

The vote was 6-1, with Justice Greg Guidry dissenting. The plaintiffs in the case include the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

The ruling states that the per-pupil allocation, called the minimum foundation program or MFP, must go to public schools. Justice John Weimer writes, “The state funds approved through the unique MFP process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution.”

Jindal immediately said he’d seek to fund the voucher program through general appropriations, but recent polling showing that vouchers (unlike charter public schools) are not terribly popular makes that a questionable proposition, even with a Republican-controlled legislature.

From a national perspective, the court ruling was a significant blow to the trend (at least in Republican-governed states) towards “backpack” vouchers–public educational funds that are “strapped to the kids’ backs” and follow wherever parents to decide to send them, with minimal or no accountability for results. It could also raise the visibility of the fault lines among Republicans on education policy, particularly in terms of the recent tendency of conservatives to abandon the standards-and-accountability movement (reflected in the Common Core Standards that are about to be implemented in most states) in favor of out-front hostility to “government schools.”

Needless to say, the Louisiana court’s action continued what has become a very bad year for Bobby Jindal, whose supposedly cerebral agenda for his state is in tatters.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.