Legal defense fund established to fight for voucher dollars
6th August 2012 · 0 Comments
By Zoe Sullivan
The fight over the future of public education in Louisiana continues in spite of a judge’s decision in July to deny a request for an injunction against implementing Act II, the law that establishes the country’s most sweeping voucher program. The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) sent a letter in late July to the private schools slated to receive state funds notifying them that the Association would take legal action to recover the money if the law is found unconstitutional. In response to this, the Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice, two Washington, D.C.-area organizations, have established a legal defense fund for the private schools.
Michael Walker-Jones, the Executive Director of the LAE, told The Louisiana Weekly in a phone interview that the letters were sent as part of the ordinary process of litigation. “The spin is that we have been accused of threatening or intimidating these groups, and that’s not true,” Walker-Jones asserted. Explaining that his organization believes the voucher legislation to be unconstitutional, Walker-Jones outlined that the LAE is acting in what it believes to be the best interest of public school students.
“Why are we being questioned for trying to protect the rights of children who are remaining in the public schools,” Walker-Jones asked during a phone interview. “Why is the state…pursuing a path of ripping money out from underneath [public school students] in order to pursue a political agenda to put money into private and parochial schools?”
Expressing the concern that the governor and state superintendent may not act to have state funds disbursed to private schools returned in the event that the law is deemed unconstitutional, Walker-Jones said that his organization was preparing for legal action in this regard in order to ensure that all public funds would be returned. “Wait until the issue has been resolved before you start spending it. That would be fair to all parties,” he remarked.
The Institute for Justice describes itself as a “libertarian public interest law firm” on its website. It has partnered with the Alliance for School Choice (ASC) to establish a legal defense fund for those Louisiana private schools that do take voucher funds in the event that the law is found unconstitutional. ASC spokesperson, Malcolm Glenn, told The Louisiana Weekly that the defense fund was created to reassure participating private schools. “We think it’s useful, that it would help schools that would have otherwise accepted funds from the [voucher] program,” he said in a phone interview, explaining that if these schools feel “pressured or bullied,” the fund would offer a reassurance of support. Glenn also stated that “we don’t think it will be found anything but constitutional.”
The State Superintendent of Education, John White, sent a comment to The Louisiana Weekly by email on the matter. “We find the kind of scare tactics used by the plaintiff to be shameful. Trying to prevent people from doing what’s right for their children is bad enough. Doing it with no basis whatsoever is disgraceful.”
Walker-Jones sustained that Louisiana’s “constitution says that monies from the MFP [Minimum Foundation Program —the state’s primary source of funding for public schools] are supposed to be spent on public schools. Nowhere does the constitution mention private or parochial schools.” In contrast, Glenn argued that his group believes that its “actions are very much in accordance with the will of the people.”
This article was originally published in the August 6, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper