Monday, June 4, 2012

Voucher vote "the fruit of a poisoned tree"

(Baton Rouge - June 4, 2012) Calling today’s vote by the House of Representatives to fund Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education agenda “the fruit of a poisoned tree,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said the next stage for this sad saga will be in Louisiana courtrooms.

“From the first day that this sorry scheme was introduced until today’s outrageous and tainted vote, the constitution and the rule of law have been recklessly disregarded,” Monaghan said.

By an extremely narrow 51-49 margin, the House voted to concur on a proposed $3.4 billion Minimum Foundation Program budget. In prior years, the MFP constitutionally and correctly funded public elementary and secondary schools.

But this year’s formula redefines public education to include private and religious schools, virtual online schools, corporate and industry providers, and even higher education institutions.

“Had the law been respected,” Monaghan said, “SCR 99 would have never contradicted the constitution or its stated purpose. And, having done just that, it should have failed today."

Before the vote was taken, Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) announced that SCR 99 would prevail if it received the votes of a majority of those present, even though the constitution stipulates that 53 votes would be necessary.

To the consternation of most in the chamber, Speaker Kleckley dismissed complaints by saying that the House has “a long history” of violating the constitution.

“That is just one more outrage added to the list of reasons why these issues will head to court,” Monaghan said.

During debate on the House floor, no member took the stand to defend the resolution except for Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), who chairs the House Education Committee. From the back of the room, however, Gov. Jindal’s lobbyists relentlessly twisted arms to eke out the narrow margin by which the resolution passed.

Representatives of both parties took the microphone to denounce the proposed MFP.

A defining issue in the debate was the plan to send as much as $8,500 per pupil to religious schools. Those included an Islamic school in Jefferson Parish and several religious schools around the state which have not been fully vetted, lack certified teachers and appropriate equipment, and have no track record of student achievement.

Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) said that he supports religious freedom, but that giving taxpayer money to religious schools resembles a “European model” that led to generations of violent conflict over differences in beliefs.

The closeness of the final vote reflected a deep-seated unease in many members of the House, Monaghan said. In past years, opposition to the formula has been reflected in single-digit votes. For 49 members to stand against the governor’s wishes is unprecedented, he said.

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