District Judge Janice Clark held this week that Louisiana owes the state’s school districts $137 milliion because of a failure to fully fund the state’s minimum foundation program in 2013-2014. In May 2013 the Louisiana Supreme Court had held that a wide-ranging school voucher program that the legislature had enacted was unconstitutional because “once funds are dedicated to the state’s Minimum Foundation Program for public education, the constitution prohibits those funds from being expended on the tuition costs of nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities.” Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, 118 So. 3d 1033 ( LA 2013).
Judge Clark accepted the plaintiffs’ view that under the procedure outlined by the Supreme Court for formula passage, financing plans approved in several prior years should be voided and school districts should be paid under an older formula that included an annual 2.75 percent funding increase to account for inflation.
Another judge had dismissed a similar school board lawsuit last year. Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that although the disputed formula might not have been passed properly, the court can’t order lawmakers to appropriate money according to an older formula and dismissed the case. Caldwell’s ruling is on appeal by the school boards. Judge Clark refused a request from the state to delay the present case until the appeals court ruled in that separate lawsuit. The state has announced that it will appeal the current ruling.
The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, joined by 30 other school districts, the Louisiana Association of Educators, and many union locals were plaintiffs in present suit.