Union declines to identify schools

A teachers’ union is declining to identify two private or parochial schools that it says will refuse state aid for voucher students until the union’s legal challenge is resolved.

Last week the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two largest teacher unions, asked most of the 119 schools that the state authorized to accept voucher students to decline the aid or face lawsuits.

Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the group, said in an email that one school has agreed to do so “until there was a final and definitive decision on its constitutionality,” a reference to the state’s newly-expanded voucher program.

“We are working with the other school to hold the funds in escrow pending the courts’ determination of the constitutionality of the program,” Blackwell wrote.

“In light of this being an ongoing matter, I would prefer not to comment on the identity of the schools involved,” he said.

Blackwell’s comments stemmed from a request by the LAE to furnish the names of any schools that notified the union that it would not accept voucher dollars, which are supposed to pay for tuition and mandatory fees.

Under a law that won final approval in April, students who attended public schools rated C, D or F, and who meet income rules, can qualify for the aid, which backers call scholarships.

State Superintendent of Education John White said last week that the state authorized vouchers for about 5,600 of the nearly 10,000 students who applied.

Up to 1,000 more students may get the aid depending on available seats in the schools taking part.

Last week’s request to schools by the LAE included a form letter that schools could send White saying that they planned to decline the state aid.

“The department has not received notification from any participating school indicating this form of intimidation has caused them to reconsider their participation,” White said in a prepared statement released on Monday.

LAE officials called the faxed letters a legal step that would prevent schools from having to repay the state aid if the voucher law is struck down.

A hearing is set for October.

White and other critics accused the LAE of trying to scare schools into backing out of the program.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed the law, calls the expanded voucher program a way for students to escape failing public schools.

The LAE, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association have challenged the law in the 19th Judicial District Court, in part because of the way it was passed by the Legislature.

Josh LeSage, administrator of Hosanna Christian Academy, which has been authorized for 299 voucher students, said last week he is mindful of potential problems if schools are forced to return the state aid because of a court ruling.

But LeSage said the value of the program outweighs those financial concerns.

“This is a matter of social justice,” he said.

How much schools collect depend on tuition and how many students they are authorized to accept.