Parish joins lawsuit over school vouchers

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, July 4, 2012

VIDALIA — Standing behind a decision made by the Concordia Parish School Board, interim Superintendent Paul Nelson said he supports the lawsuit against Louisiana’s new private school tuition voucher program.

The Concordia Parish School Board joined 33 other school boards and the states’ two major teacher unions last week to file the lawsuit.

The program, pushed through the recent legislative session by Gov. Bobby Jindal, is geared toward children from low- to moderate-income families who attend low-performing public schools. It would allow those children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

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The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the program saying that Jindal and lawmakers are improperly paying for the vouchers, homeschooling, online courses, college tuition and independently run charter schools that won’t be affiliated with local school systems.

The lawsuit claims the state constitution bars the use of the state education funding formula, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, for anything besides public school financing.

The Concordia Parish School Board voted unanimously in June to join the lawsuit with the Louisiana School Board Association.

The original lawsuit by the LSBA has been consolidated with similar challenges filed by the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

And while he wasn’t on the board that voted to join the lawsuit, interim Superintendent Paul Nelson said he supports the lawsuit and the board’s decision.

“They will be taking money directly out of our pockets and giving it to a school that could have no accountability,” Nelson said. “Are we assuming a private school is better than a public school simply because it has academy in it’s title?

“There’s no reason to assume a private school is better than a public school.”

At the end of the day, Nelson said the legislative measure falls on everyone’s shoulders.

“When everything was getting rushed through to be passed there was only a small group that wanted to ask questions and review it,” Nelson said. “Now you have so many problems, and now we’re concerned about it.

“We should have been concerned about the rules and processes before we approved this.”

And while 34 school boards and two teacher unions is an impressive feat to stand in protest against the state, Nelson said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more parishes join the lawsuit.

“When five teachers say something it’s not as effective, but when 500 teachers say something they tend to get the message heard better,” Nelson said. “Ultimately, they’re the ones in the classroom with children every day, and they need to be heard.”

A hearing is set for July 10 in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.