A ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court striking down the state’s expanded voucher program will spark a scramble in the Legislature and elsewhere on whether and how to fund the program, officials said Tuesday morning.
Michael Faulk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said the decision will force the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to come up with a new plan to fund public schools since the one approved earlier includes the use of public school dollars to fund vouchers.
‘I think it is going to have a big impact,” Faulk said of the ruling.
He said that, if voucher backers want to continue the aid, they will have to come up with $30 million to $50 million.
State Superintendent of Education John White said earlier that the aid costs about $22 million per year.
The state is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall for the upcoming financial year to maintain state aid at current levels.
White has said he is confident that, even if vouchers were struck down, state officials will find a way to continue the aid.
He did not spell out specifics. White is in Washington, D.C. Tuesday.
Eric Lewis, who is state director of the Louisiana branch of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which is a major backer of vouchers, said he is confident the assistance will continue.
“Superintendent White has committed that the program is going to be funded,” Lewis said.
Vouchers are state aid for some students who attended schools rated C, D and F by the state to attend private and parochial schools.
The money comes from the same source that funds Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools, which is the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.
Critics of the law have argued that MFP dollars are reserved solely for public schools and challenged last year’s law on that basis.
Backers said the aid offers students a way out of troubled public schools.
The state’s top court said laws approved in 2012 “unconstitutionally divert MFP funds to nonpublic entities” in violation of the state Constitution.
The ruling comes at the midway point of the Legislature’s two-month gathering.
BESE will likely be forced to hold a special meeting to consider a new MFP resolution, which is then submitted to the Legislature.
Lawmakers can accept or reject the $3.4 billion spending plan but cannot change it.
The decision also re-opens a volatile topic in the final four weeks of the session.
Any bid by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies — they pushed last year’s voucher law expansion — will spark heated arguments.