By a 5-2 margin, the Louisiana Supreme Court last month upheld state funding for 35 charter schools established by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education after local school boards had refused to authorize them (Iberville Parish Sch. Bd v. Louisiana State Bd of Educ). The high court reversed a decision by the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal that had determined that the funding was ”unconstitutional because the schools did not meet the legal definition of public schools.”
Under the funding formula adopted by the legislature, the state subtracted per student state aid amounts from the appropriations for the school districts in which students attending these charter schools resided and allocated these funds to the state-authorized charter schools The Iberville school board and the state teachers’ union sued to enjoin this part of the state funding formula.
The key issue in the case was the interpretation of La. Const. Art. VIII, § 13(B), which requires the legislature to “fully fund the current cost to the state” of a “minimum foundation program of education [MFP] in all public elementary and secondary schools[,]” and that the “funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems[.]”The plaintiffs argued that MFP funds cannot be diverted to the state-authorized charter schools because this constitutional provision restricts MFP funds to “parish and city school systems,” and the parish and city school systems had not authorized the establishment of these schools. Defendants countered that the constitutional provision requires the state to fund these charter schools because they are “public schools.”
The Court first stated that under its prior precedents, if a legislative instrument is susceptible to two constructions, one of which would render it unconstitutional, the court will adopt the interpretation of the legislative instrument which will maintain its constitutionality. Applying that rationale, the Court emphasized the constitutional intent to fund all public schools and held that “While there is no definition of public elementary and secondary schools in the Constitution, our Legislature has expressed that charter schools are independent public schools. “ The Court stated that the plaintiffs had “failed to carry their burden of proving clearly and convincingly” that allocating traditional school aid dollars to the schools was illegal. The court further held that local tax money used to fund schools was also part of the MFP formula and, therefore, may also be allocated to charter schools to support the education of charter school students who reside in the local school district.
Justice Hughes, dissenting, said that “Sending money directly to individual schools may seem desirable, but the Constitution requires that funds from the MFP formula are to be allocated to school systems, not individual schools . . . Shortcuts around the Constitution, even for what may seem laudable or politically expedient, are inimical to democracy and are not cool.” he wrote.