Testimony continues on lawsuit over school vouchers

BATON ROUGE, LA (AP) - Testimony continued Thursday in the battle over Governor Bobby Jindal's school voucher program.  That's despite the fact that Judge Tim Kelley told lawyers he didn't think the testimony was necessary.

Penny Dastugue, the President of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, was one of three to testify on Thursday.  She says the purpose of the voucher program is not only to allow parents to take their child out of a low-performing school, but also to allow that failing school to improve to the point that a parent would choose to re-enroll.

Dastugue also testified that one-third of Louisiana schools are considered failing.  But when asked if the private and parochial schools are better at helping a child improve, her response: "I believe in the power of parent choice."

Bill Maurer, with the Institute for Justice, says the constitution requires government to create an equitable distribution of funds and derive a formula to come up with those funds.  Maurer represents a group of parents who support the voucher program.  He says what this case boils down to is money, not whether the program follows the constitution.

"What they are losing are students.  And the students are having to leave these schools because they're failing and under performing.  They seem to think they're entitled to money for students that aren't there," said Maurer.

Brian Blackwell, the attorney who represents the Louisiana Association of Educators, told the judge that several parishes, including: East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Bienville, Caldwell, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette and more are paying more money to fund the voucher program that the state is.

The formula for deciding the funding is supposed to be 65/35.  65 percent from the state, 35 from the local school board.

"Important fact to bring to courts attention that it actually is costing local school districts more in some areas of the state than costing the state for a state program that's been imposed upon local districts," said Blackwell.

Closing arguments for the case start Friday morning.

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