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Louisiana's voucher program in the dock

A trial in a state court over Louisiana's controversial voucher program began on November 28, 2012, reviving the issue of the state's funding of schools that teach creationism. As NCSE previously reported, the voucher program uses public school funds to pay for tuition and certain fees at private schools for students who attend low-performing public schools and whose family income is below a certain level. But as Zack Kopplin, the activist who organized the effort to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, at least 19 of the 119 schools slated to benefit from the program teach creationism instead of or along with evolution; at least one of the schools uses a textbook that cites the Loch Ness monster as evidence against evolution.

Neither the Loch Ness monster nor creationism is at issue in the current legal challenge to the voucher program, however. Rather, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers along with a number of local school boards are arguing that the program violates the state constitution by redirecting local tax dollars from public schools to private schools. As a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune (November 28, 2012) explains, the law instituting the program attempted to avoid the problem: "the state deducts from what the [program] pays to local districts an amount nearly equal to the state portion and what the districts raise locally ... but the school boards argue that in reality they are being docked for both the state and local portions for each voucher student."

Although the accounting details are at the heart of the case, it is creationism that captures the attention outside Louisiana: in a eighteen-paragraph story on the lawsuit in the Guardian (November 28, 2012), no fewer than thirteen paragraphs discussed creationism. The Guardian's article quoted Zack Kopplin, Americans United for Separation of Church and State's Rob Boston, and Barbara Forrest, a member of NCSE's board of directors, who commented, with regard to the claims that the voucher program promotes the quality of education in Louisiana, "It is not better education. It is inferior when you are teaching kids that the earth is 6,000 years old. A lot of public money is going to schools that teach creationism and fundamentalist science. I think that is dreadful." A ruling in the case is expected shortly.