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Louisiana Schools Offered Legal Help in Voucher Fight

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A pair of national pro-voucher groups are vowing to stand up for Louisiana schools who have been warned they could face lawsuits if they participate in the state's new private school choice program.

The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice say they are creating a legal defense fund to help private schools who were told by a state teachers' union that they could end up in court if they accept students through the taxpayer-funded program.

Their action comes in response to a letter sent to private schools last month by a law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators, a teachers' union that has sued to try to block the voucher model. The letter said the union was determined to "prevent the unconstitutional transfer of public monies" to the voucher system, and warned the private schools that the teachers' organization and its representatives would have "no alternative other than to institute litigation" to halt the private schools from taking part.

The voucher program, part of a sweeping law signed earlier this year by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, channels public money to students, most of them relatively impoverished, in academically struggling schools, for private school costs.

The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice will begin collecting donations this week to supplement the fund, said Malcom Glenn, a spokesman for the alliance. It would not prove difficult for the organizations to round up cash from voucher supporters on behalf of the Louisiana effort, Glenn predicted in an interview.

"We think it's something that will galvanize folks," Glenn said of the fundraising effort. "We want to make sure that if there are schools worried about going forward, we will defend them."

The alliance also said it has hired Barry W. Ashe, of a New Orleans-based law firm, Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, LLC, to defend the implementation of the voucher program.

Based in Washington, the alliance has been active in supporting the growth of voucher programs around the country. The Institute for Justice, which is headquartered in Arlington, Va., has been a major player in providing legal backing for private-school choice programs. The institute is also defending the Louisiana voucher program in court.

The letter from the teachers' union drew strong objections from Louisiana schools superintendent John White, who said the LAE was trying to intimidate private school officials with legal threats. Union officials dispute that, saying that it's premature to allow taxpayer funds to flow to private schools while the union's legal challenge is pending in court.

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