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Louisiana Public Education Overhaul: Gov. Bobby Jindal's Proposal Hit With Lawsuit

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BOBBY JINDAL VOUCHER PROGRAM
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. | Getty Images

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bold education package that calls for using public school dollars to fund private and parochial school vouchers will be tested in court.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed a suit Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the Republican governor's proposal, as well as changes made to teacher tenure and salary law.

The two lawsuits were filed by the LFT and its member organizations in East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parishes, The News Star reports.

The suit against the education spending changes, which includes the controversial voucher funding, also named Jillian Alexander -- a parent of two public school students in Baton Rouge -- and Billie Smith, a Baton Rouge teacher, as plaintiffs. Meanwhile, the tenure lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nellie Meariman and Kevin Dehart, who are both teachers in the Jefferson Parish Public School System.

If implemented, Jindal's program would mean that beginning this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class children would receive vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at over 120 Louisiana private schools -- including small, Bible-based church schools, according to Reuters. The following year, students representing any income bracket would be eligible for mini-vouchers enabling them to pay various private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money could be directed at industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, to name a few.

The flip side is that every time a student is given a voucher of either type, his or her local public school would lose a portion of state funding.

Attorney Larry Samuels told the News Star that the LFT is seeking temporary and permanent restraining orders that would “stop this action in its tracks” before too many parents accept what LFT President Steve Monaghan calls a flawed system.

James Garvey, a Jefferson Parish representative on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has voiced his opposition to the Jefferson Federation of Teachers’ involvement in the lawsuit.

“I think that it is a shame that the Jefferson Federation of Teachers is using the money that they collect from their hard working teachers, through their union dues, to pay for prosecuting these lawsuits,” he wrote in a statement Friday.

Regarding the voucher lawsuit, he argues that vouchers -- contrary to what has been alleged by critics -- will actually reduce the cost of educating the students who utilize them, since average private school tuition is lower than the state per-pupil allotment.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of Mitt Romney’s proposal to expand the voucher system -- a plan he outlined during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late May.

The proposal would enable low-income and disabled students to use federal funding to attend public schools, public charter schools and in some cases, private schools. Federal funds could also be applied to tutors or digital courses, though the plan was not expected to include any new federal money for education.

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Filed by Alex Kuczynski-Brown