NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana public school students can start registering for free online classes taught by 42 organizations, including universities, according to the state education department.

The state is going ahead with the "Course Choice" program despite a judge's ruling last year that paying for it through the state's public school financing formula violates the Louisiana Constitution. That ruling is under appeal.

Besides LSU and other colleges, private firms as diverse as Acadian Ambulance and Sylvan Learning Center are among those offering courses online or in other nontraditional settings.

Courses are free to students in lower-performing public schools. Students in schools with a state ranking of A or B also can take the courses at no cost — if they are not offered where they attend.

"This gives parents the power to tailor the education that they want for their child as their child pursues a life beyond high school in the 21st century workforce," State Education Superintendent John White said Monday in a telephone news conference.

He wouldn't speculate on how many students will take part in the new program. He said he isn't concerned that some providers might pull out if too few student sign up, saying the courses being offered are, in many cases, well established. "It's just a different way of organizing it and marketing it," White said.

White said the department will wait for a Supreme Court decision on funding the program through the Minimum Foundation Program, which distributes state money to public school districts, before deciding how best to proceed.

"We think that it's best to wait for the parameters of that decision to be decided before moving on a specific course of action," he said.

Course Choice was passed by the Legislature as part of a multi-faceted public education overhaul package pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, which also included a statewide private school tuition voucher program for lower-income students in poorly performing public schools, and a toughening of teacher tenure requirements.

Most of the package, however, has been declared unconstitutional in district court rulings that are on their way to the state Supreme Court. The rulings have not dealt with the substance of the education efforts, but with technicalities, declaring the education initiatives unconstitutional because of improper funding methods or because they were passed as part of a bill bundling too many objectives in a single piece of legislation.

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