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Iberville Parish School Board v. Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Supreme Court of Louisiana

March 13, 2018

IBERVILLE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION AND THE STATE OF LOUISIANA THROUGH THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION LOUISIANA ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, CADDO ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, CALCASIEU ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, INC., CONCORDIA ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, THE EAST BATON ROUGE ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, LAFAYETTE PARISH ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, MADISON ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, MONROE ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, ST. LANDRY ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, ST. MARY ASSOCIATION OF EDUCATORS, ANN BURRUSS, REV. OSCAR HAMILTON, DEBORAH HARGRAVE, MELINDA WALLER MANGHAM AND THOMAS TATE VERSUS STATE OF LOUISIANA, THE LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION AND THE STATE OF LOUISIANA THROUGH THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE

          GENOVESE, JUSTICE.

         We are called upon to determine whether the lower court erred in declaring unconstitutional certain provisions of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 55 of 2014, which applies the formula contained in La.R.S. 17:3995 and allocates Minimum Foundation Program ("MFP") funding to New Type 2 charter schools. In accordance with our legally-mandated de novo review, we find the court of appeal erred in declaring the constitution prohibits the payment of MFP funds to New Type 2 charter schools. Thus, the appellate court's declaration of unconstitutionality is reversed.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In the 2014 regular session, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 15, a general appropriations bill for the 2014-2015 fiscal year which contained Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 55 ("SCR 55"). SCR 55 is the vehicle by which the legislature approved the 2014-2015 MFP formula adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ("BESE") as required by La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B), which dictates that BESE "annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools."

         The MFP is Louisiana's principal source for funding public elementary and secondary education. The formula developed and adopted by BESE takes into consideration the number of students in each school district and the special characteristics of those students. Presently, once a school system receives its MFP allocation from the state, individual charter schools are allocated their share of those funds pursuant to La.R.S. 17:3995.[1]

         The plaintiffs, Iberville Parish School Board ("IPSB") and the Louisiana Association of Educators ("LAE"), [2] each filed petitions for injunctive and declaratory relief, naming as defendants BESE and the State of Louisiana through the Department of Education ("Department").[3] The suits were consolidated.

         The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of SCR 55(II)(B) and also sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. The plaintiffs alleged SCR 55(II)(B) is an unconstitutional diversion of MFP funds, pursuant to La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B), which requires the state to annually develop and adopt a formula to determine a minimum foundation program of education in public elementary and secondary schools, and to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems. The plaintiffs asserted SCR 55(II)(B) unconstitutionally allocated MFP funds that are constitutionally allocated to parish and city school systems to new charter schools outside the parish or city school system, i.e., New Type 2 charter schools. Additionally, the plaintiffs contended SCR 55(II)(B) unconstitutionally diverts the local portion of the per-pupil amount mandated in the MFP. IPSB, not LAE, also sought damages for all MFP funds which defendants allegedly unlawfully diverted from IPSB to New Type 2 charter schools.

         SCR 55 dictates that MFP funds shall be paid to New Type 2 charter schools. The provisions of SCR 55 to which the plaintiffs object state, in pertinent part:

         II. FORMULA CALCULATIONS FOR STATE-APPROVED PUBLIC SCHOOLS

         B. NEW TYPE 2 CHARTER SCHOOLS

A New Type 2 [c]harter school is a Type 2 [c]harter school[4]approved after July 1, 2008 by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
1. State Cost Allocation.
a. Any New Type 2 [c]harter [s]chool shall annually be provided a State Cost Allocation as determined by the formula contained in R.S. 7:3995.
b. The State Cost Allocation equals the number of students multiplied by the average State Cost Allocation Per Pupil for the system in which the student resides.
c. Mid-Year Adjustments shall adhere to the guidelines established in this document.
2. Local Cost Allocation.
a. Any New Type 2 [c]harter school shall annually be provided a Local Cost Allocation by applying the formula contained in R.S. 17:3995.
b. The Local Cost Allocation equals the number of students multiplied by the Local Cost Allocation Per Pupil for the system in which the student resides.
c. One exception to R.S. 17:3995 is that the Local Cost allocation will be funded with a transfer of the MFP monthly amount representing the Local Cost Allocation from the city or parish school system in which the attending students reside.
d. The city or parish where students attending the New Type 2 [c]harter school reside is the local taxing authority and shall provide the local support for the students.
e. Mid-Year Adjustments will adhere to the guidelines established in this document.
4. Where student attendance is from multiple school systems, the Department of Education shall determine the Local Cost Allocation based on students reported by the schools. The student membership count of the New Type 2 charter schools shall be included in the membership count of the city or parish school board in which the student resides to determine the Local Cost Allocation.
5. In the first year of operation, a New Type 2 [c]harter school shall be allocated funding based on an estimated student count since a February 1 student count does not exist. The allocation will be finalized based on the October 1 student count.
6. The exclusion of any portion of local revenues specifically dedicated by the legislature or by voter approval to capital outlay or debt service shall be applicable only to a charter school housed in a facility or facilities provided by the district in which the charter school is located.

SCR 55(II)(B).

         After a three-day trial, the district court entered a judgment in favor of defendants, dismissing plaintiffs' claims. In oral reasons, the district court ruled that SCR 55(II)(B) does not violate the constitution. The district court first determined that Type 2 charter schools are public schools, noting "all parties agree that the Type 2 charter schools are public schools, are public entities." Next, the district court considered whether or not the funds through the MFP go to New Type 2 charter schools, as defendants contend, or if the constitution says the funds through the MFP go only to the city and parish school systems, as plaintiffs assert. The district court rejected plaintiffs' assertion, focusing on the word "public" in La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B). The district court found the MFP formula adopted by BESE does not violate La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B), because charter schools are public schools, and as such, BESE is required to "annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems." La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B) (emphasis added). In addition, the district court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that SCR 55(II)(B) unconstitutionally diverts the local portion of the per-pupil amount mandated in the MFP.

         The court of appeal reversed the district court, declaring unconstitutional the diversion of MFP funds to New Type 2 charter schools pursuant to SCR 55(II)(B). A majority of a five-judge panel found that SCR 55(II)(B) unconstitutionally diverts MFP funds constitutionally mandated to be allocated to parish and city school systems to new charter schools outside the parish or city school system, in violation of La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B).[5] Relying largely on Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, 13-0120, 13-0232, 13-0350 (La. 5/7/13), 118 So.3d 1033, the majority concluded that "New Type 2 charter schools are not public schools in the sense of the Louisiana Constitution." Iberville Par. Sch. Bd. v. La. State Bd. of Elementary & Secondary Educ., 15-1416, 15-1417, p. 10 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1/9/17), 2017 WL 90541 (unpub'd). The majority remanded IPSB's damage claim to the district court.

         Two judges dissented, finding "no exceptions in the language of the constitution that provide that public schools that are not part of the parish or city school systems are somehow different from other public schools or that they should be funded differently." Id. at 14. The dissenting judges would, however, have required a remand for further examination of the local tax dedications that provide revenue support for the parish school system.[6]

         The defendants filed two identical writ applications (2017-C-0257 and 2017-C-0633), [7] seeking reversal of the court of appeal's judgment which declared that New Type 2 charter schools are not public schools, and that the methodology in SCR 55(II)(B), applying the formula in La.R.S. 17:3995, which provides MFP funding to New Type 2 charter schools, is unconstitutional. IPSB filed a writ application (2017-C-0634), seeking a determination that damages should have been awarded for the unconstitutional diversion of MFP funds to New Type 2 charter schools.[8] We granted writs pursuant to our appellate jurisdiction, see La. Const. art. V, § 5(D), to review the appellate court's declaration of unconstitutionality. [9]LaPointe v. Vermilion Par. Sch. Bd., 15-0432, p. 5 (La. 6/30/15), 173 So.3d 1152, 1157; World Trade Ctr. Taxing Dist. v. All Taxpayers, Prop. Owners, 05-0374, p. 1 (La. 6/29/05), 908 So.2d 623, 626.

         DISCUSSION

         At the forefront of our review is Article VIII of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, entitled "Education, " which contains the substantive provisions regarding the state's obligations to the public educational system. Under La. Const. art. VIII, § 1, the legislature is required to "provide for the education of the people of the state and shall establish and maintain a public educational system." The requirement to fund public elementary and secondary education is set forth in La. Const. art. VIII, § 13. Under La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(A), the legislature "shall appropriate funds to supply free school books and other materials of instruction prescribed by [BESE] to the children of this state at the elementary and secondary levels." The legislature is also required under La. Const. Art. VIII, § 13(B), to "fully fund the current cost to the state" of a "minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools[, ]" and the "funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems[.]"

         The plaintiffs argue that MFP funds cannot be diverted to New Type 2 charter schools because La. Const. art. VIII, § 13(B), restricts MFP funds to "parish and city school systems." The defendants contend the plaintiffs failed in their burden to prove clearly and convincingly that the constitution imposes substantive limits or requirements on how the MFP is to be developed or implemented. Defendants argue what is clear is that La. Const. art. VIII, § 13 (B), requires the state to fund New Type 2 charter schools because they are public schools.

         Constitutional Interpretation Principles

         The constitutionality of legislation is a legal question, which is reviewed by this court de novo. La. Mun. Ass'n v. State, 04-0227, p. 45 (La. 1/19/05), 893 So.2d 809, 842 (citing Cleco Evangeline v. La. Tax Comm'n, 01-2162, p. 3 (La. 4/3/02), 813 So.2d 351, 353). In our de novo review, we are mindful that certain principles apply. There is a presumption that legislative instruments are constitutional; therefore, the party challenging its validity has the burden of proving its unconstitutionality. La. Fed'n of Teachers, 13-1020 at p. 21, 118 So.3d at 1048 (citing State v. Citizen, 04-1841, p. 11 (La. 4/1/05), 898 So.2d 325, 334; Louisiana Mun. Ass'n, 04-0227 at p. 45, 893 So.2d at 842; Bd. of Comm'rs of N. Lafourche Conservation, Levee & Drainage Dist. v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Atchafalaya Basin Levee Dist., 95-1353, p. 3 (La. 1/16/96), 666 So.2d 636, 639).

         The provisions of the Louisiana Constitution are not grants of power; instead, they are limitations on the otherwise plenary power of the people exercised through the legislature. La. Fed'n of Teachers, 13-0120 at p. 21, 118 So.3d at 1048 (citing La. Mun. Assoc., 04-0227 at p. 45, 893 So.2d at 842; Bd. of Comm'rs of N. Lafourche Conservation, Levee & Drainage Dist., 95-1353 at p. 3, 666 So.2d at 639). The Louisiana Legislature, whom the people elect, may enact any legislation that the constitution does not prohibit. World Trade Ctr. Taxing Dist., 05-0374 at p. 11, 908 So.2d at 632 (citing Polk v. Edwards, 626 So.2d 1128, 1132 (La.1993)). In order to hold legislation invalid under the constitution, it is necessary to rely on some particular constitutional provision that limits the power of the legislature. World Trade Ctr. Taxing Dist., 05-0374 at p. 11, 908 So.2d at 632 (citing Polk, 626 So.2d at 1132; In re Am. Waste & Pollution Control Co., 588 So.2d 376 (La.1991); Bd. of Dirs. of La. Recovery Dist. v. All Taxpayers, Prop. Owners, 529 So.2d 384 (La.1988)). In that context, the party challenging the constitutionality of legislation must cite to the specific provision of the constitution that would prohibit the enactment of the legislation and must demonstrate clearly and convincingly that it was the constitutional aim of that provision to deny the legislature the power to enact the ...


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