In what was billed as a major policy address, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House Majority Leader, said in Philadelphia Monday that he would “leave no stone unturned in holding [U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder] accountable” for the Obama administration’s push to stop Louisiana from implementing a voucher program that allows low-income children to attend private schools on the public dime.
The U.S. Department of Justice Department says the program runs afoul of a court-ordered desegregation plan in that state. The program distributed 5,000 scholarships last year, 91 percent of which went to minority students, according to a fact sheet distributed by House Republicans. The issue will be debated in a federal court in New Orleans soon. More here.
Congressional Republicans, including Cantor, say they don’t understand how the voucher program hurts minority students—in fact, they claim it is helping them escape from troubled public schools.
“The Attorney General will have to explain to the American people why he believes poor minority children in Louisiana should be held back, and why these children shouldn’t have the same opportunity that the children from wealthier and more connected families,” Cantor said at his address at Freire Charter School.
Cantor added that he’s hoping that Holder will reverse his decision. Otherwise, the House will take further action.
What does that mean exactly? Well, if I were Holder, I’d be getting ready to raise my right hand and swear under oath at a congressional hearing on the Justice Department’s actions.
Cantor’s oppositon is nothing new. In fact, last week, Cantor, Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and other GOP leaders, sent a letter to Holder with a list of pointed questions about the lawsuit. And on Friday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, got in on the act, sending a letter to Holder asking him to withdraw the suit altogether.
In the speech, Cantor also rehashed his support for expanding school choice—including helping more students gain access to charter schools.
That’s been a big theme for Cantor this year, culminating in his amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would allow Title I dollars for disadvantaged to follow students to public schools. Cantor had initially hoped to put forth language that would have allowed the money to go to private schools too, but some House Republicans bristled at that idea. Advocates said it would not have passed the House.
Cantor, however, remains committed to expanding school choice.
“I would like to make a prediction,” he said. “Because the arc of moral history bends towards justice, because education opportunity is growing throughout the country, because there is no good argument for denying parents the best possible education for their child, and because of the successes I see in this room at this school, within 10 years, education opportunity and school choice will be a reality for every student in America.”