Class action lawsuit seeks $200 million from state on behalf of public schools, teachers union

By Leslie Gamboni | Jul 16, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – A $200 million class action lawsuit has been filed against the Louisiana Department of Education following a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s funding formula to be unconstitutional.

The St. John the Baptist Parish School District and the Louisiana Association of Educators, a statewide teachers union, filed the suit in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge on June 28.

The issue arose after Act 2 was found unconstitutional earlier this year. Act 2 was a central part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform program that passed in 2012 and detailed a funding policy for public schools by the state through a voucher program.

On May 7, in Louisiana Federation of Teachers et al vs. The State of Louisiana, the Louisiana Supreme Court not only ruled that Act 2 was unconstitutional, but that the last time a constitutional funding formula was passed was in 2009.

Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said that Act 2 was unconstitutional on two grounds.

"Firstly, in the use of minimum foundation money for vouchers and the process by which they passed the resolution," he said.

Brian Blackwell and Charles Patin, lead attorneys on the class action lawsuit, explained that they calculated $200 million figure by going back to the last constitutional funding formula that was put in place in 2010. The formula that year dictated a 2.75% annual increase for schools. Blackwell and Patin applied that percentage to each of the three years of funding which added up to nearly $200 million.

According to Blackwell, the case has been filed on behalf of lead plaintiff St. John the Baptist School Board, but other school boards in the state, local education groups and individuals are expected to join the class.

Russ Wise, a St. John the Baptist Parish school board member, said the next step is to recover the money, which the school boards claim was wrongly taken away from public schools in the past years.

“Representatives for the St. John the Baptist School Board and the teachers union are trying to recover the 2.75% increases that was supposed to happen each year but didn’t,” Wise said.

The case is scheduled for hearing Aug. 6.

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