Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in April signed education bills that divert tax dollars to religious and other private schools in the state.
One new law will allow families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $23,000 for a family of four) and whose children attend a “failing” public school to attend private schools using public dollars.
Catholic schools are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the voucher program. Louisiana has a long tradition of Catholic education, although fundamentalist Protestant academies are popular in some areas.
Jindal signed the bill at Redemptorist Elementary School, a Catholic school in Baton Rouge. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond was invited to the bill-signing ceremony and stood behind Jindal as the Republican governor added his signature to the measure.
Said Aymond of the new program, “Ultimately, it will break the cycle of poverty.”
Opponents are exploring the possibility of a lawsuit. Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said Jindal is using a state fund called the Minimum Foundation Program to pay for the vouchers. That fund, Monaghan says, was meant to support public schools.
“We will meet with our lawyers next week,” Monaghan said. “It won’t be long.”
A lawsuit based solely on the church-state language of the Louisiana Constitution could be difficult. The state used to have a strong provision that barred the diversion of tax money to religious institutions, but it was removed in 1974 after a lobbying campaign by the state Catholic Conference.
Jindal signed a second bill that would allow taxpayers to receive a 100 percent tax credit for money they donate to groups that dole out vouchers for tuition at religious and other private schools.
In other news about vouchers:
• A state court in Oklahoma has struck down a state voucher program aimed at students with disabilities. Judge Rebecca Nightingale of the District Court of Tulsa County ruled that the program runs afoul of a section of the Oklahoma Constitution that bars taxpayer funding of sectarian institutions.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which defended the law, said it plans to appeal.