As two Louisiana teacher’s unions move forward with lawsuits in an effort to block the use of public school dollars on private/parochial school educations, a 2010 lawsuit challenging the state’s public school-funding formula could have even more damaging implications for the state if successful in court.

According to a report from The Alexandria Town Talk, the target of the two union lawsuits challenging the method through which the state plans to fund Gov. Bobby Jindal’s private school voucher program — the state’s Minimum Foundation Program — is also tied to a 2010 lawsuit filed on behalf of St. Helena Parish teachers and school board members who contend that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s use of local sales tax collections as a determinant in how much money each school district receives from the state is an illegal practice that has cost local school districts a combined $4.8 billion since 2007.

MFP breaks down into a per-pupil dollar amount that the state gives local school boards. It’s calculated through a complex formula that factors in both local and state dollars, with the state’s allocation being “the total — minus the local portion,” explains Brian Blackwell, the attorney representing St. Helena in the lawsuit:
The primary law addressed in the lawsuit is R.S.17, Section 97.1 ... the law states “no portion of the proceeds derived from any sales tax levied and collected by a parish or city school board shall be used or taken into consideration in any formula adopted by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and submitted to the legislature for approval.”

Joan Hunt, general counsel for the state Department of Education, acknowledged Friday that local sales tax “is a factor in the calculation of local wealth. That’s the subject of the lawsuit.”

Asked whether that practice conflicts with the law, she said “That’s their argument. A court will decide this.”

She said she would not comment on the state’s case because “it is ongoing litigation.”

BESE did try to get the lawsuit dismissed as having no merit but Judge Wilson Fields, who is handling the case, threw those motions out.

Blackwell said that based on his research, BESE’s including sales taxes in the calculation reduced school systems’ receipts statewide an average of between $800 million and $900 million a year.
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