School Funding Cases in Louisiana

in Louisiana, Louisiana Litigation

Historical Background

In 1992, parents and school districts filed complaints alleging that the state was not providing “a minimum foundation of education to all children in the public schools of the state, as required by the Louisiana Constitution” and pointing to a “plethora of deficiencies” in buildings, textbooks, quality of teachers, curriculum, student achievement, and other areas to support their claims. In 1998, in the consolidated action Charlet v. Legislature of the State of Louisiana, 713 So.2d 1199, the Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and the state supreme court denied plaintiffs’ writ for review. The Appeal Court emphasized the constitution’s use of the term “minimum” in concluding that the state was meeting its constitutional obligations.

The State of Louisiana, in its defense of the funding system in the Charlet suit, provided the affidavit of a nationally known education finance consultant who had been retained by the state to study its school funding system. The consultant had recommended formula changes designed to eliminate some of the spending disparities among the state’s school districts by distributing relatively less state money to the high-wealth districts and relatively more to the low-wealth districts. The appellate court concluded that this revised formula, which became law in 1992, had realized its goal of reducing disparities.

Plaintiff parents and school boards again filed suit alleging violation of the Louisiana Constitution, in Jones v. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), 927 So.2d 426 (La. App. 1 Cir. Nov. 4, 2005). Plaintiffs claimed that the state’s failure to include the cost of facilities in its formula “ignores the Constitution’s mandate that the formula be used to determine the cost of a minimum program of education” and stated that their school facilities “are inadequate, deteriorating, and unsafe.” Defendants moved for summary judgment, a motion which the trial court, affirmed by the appeals court, granted.

Recent Events

In May 2013 the Louisiana Supreme Court 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). 

The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, the Louisiana Association of Educators and many union locals then brought a new suit that argues that based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Louisiana Federation of Teachers case, the school funding formulas approved  for 2010-2012 should be voided and school districts should be paid under a prior formula that included an annual funding increase to account for inflation. That change would result in $200 million more in school funding if all 69 school boards in the state are included.

In July 2015, District Judge Janice Clark held that the state owed the state’s school districts $137 million because of its failure to fully fund the state’s minimum foundation program in 2013-2014. 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.

Last Updated: July 2015

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