A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Monday issued a stay of Judge Ivan Lemell’s order, which blocked the voucher program in the fall of 2012, stating that the vouchers prevent the school systems ability to comply with its 47-year old desegregation case.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
In a public response on his Facebook page, an openly exasperated Brett K. Duncan, board member for the Tangipahoa Parish School System, said: “My review of the school board's recent legal fees relating to its efforts to keep from being subjected to these state education reforms, indicates that the board will pay our deseg attorneys at least as much in legal fees this year fighting this one issue, as we are 'losing' in state and local funds due to the voucher program.”
"A district court is not free to interfere in state spending decisions simply because raising and lowering funding levels may have some incidental impact on a federal decree," said the Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday.
All three members of the appellate panel agreed that Judge Lemelle should have held back from any ruling in the Tangipahoa school systems case, pending the outcome of a separate challenge based on the voucher program's funding methods.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the state is likely to win an appeal, arguing that Judge Lemelle improperly issued an injunction against the voucher program.
The voucher program was approved last year by Louisiana Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal. It allows the state to pay for private school tuition for students attending poorly performing public schools. Perhaps 50 or so students use vouchers in Tangipahoa.
The students must be from low to moderate-income families, according to the voucher application.
The Tangipahoa Parish School Board argued in late 2012 that the vouchers divert state money away from their local school district. Vouchers also affect the school system's ability to comply with current federal orders in the expensive and lengthy desegregation case.
Judge Lemelle then ruled that the voucher program does interfere with the school district's ability to comply with its federal desegregation order, adding that the vouchers deprive local school districts of necessary state funds while disrupting student population projections on which the order is based.
Monday’s ruling could take the Tangipahoa Parish School Board back to court in what could be considered yet another lengthy appeals process.
Duncan said there are only 50 students using vouchers in the parish this school year, while the board has spent well over $50,000 in litigation expenses just fighting the vouchers. During the voucher hearing, said Duncan, the board argued that vouchers would cost them $50,000, and that this $50,000 would keep it from being able to desegregate the schools.
Duncan called such reasoning “Nonsense!”
“I did not argue for or against vouchers,“ said Duncan. “(I) argued that those legal fees and our attorney's time would be much better spent seeking modifications to the desegregation plan. The board did not agree with me, instead deciding to move forward.”
At $50,000 and five months later, Duncan surmised “We are wrapped up in a complex, drawn-out appeal process, which the board will likely lose, and still are not ready to present to the public anything regarding alternatives to the $65-million, 5 years to implement, non-desegregating, current desegregation order.”
To constituents, Duncan openly concluded that he is not arguing the merits of the voucher program at this point, but rather that the school board “has to set priorities.”
“My position is that our particular board has much more important things to focus its money and attention on other then keeping students in our worst-performing schools from having an alternative place to get their education. When the board has fixed its own numerous and devastating problems, perhaps then it will have the moral authority to fight the voucher issue,” said Duncan.