Law & Courts

U.S. Justice Department: Some La. Districts Shouldn’t Get Vouchers

By Katie Ash — August 27, 2013 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Charters & Choice blog

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed papers in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans to prevent the state of Louisiana from providing school vouchers in districts operating under desegregation orders.

The motion, which was filed last Thursday, asserts that vouchers have been given to students in at least 22 districts still under desegregation orders for the 2013-14 school year. The awarding of the vouchers “without authorization from the appropriate federal court frustrates and impedes the desegregation process in school districts operating under federal desegregation orders,” it says.

The motion says the state should seek authorization from federal courts overseeing the desegregation cases in question before awarding future vouchers for the 2014-15 school year, and it also asks the court to order the state to undergo an analysis of the 2013-14 voucher program’s impact on school desegregation in those districts that are still operating under such measures.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who spearheaded the successful effort to expand the voucher program from New Orleans to the rest of the state this school year, slammed the Department of Justice in a weekend appearance on Meet the Press.

“We’ve got a scholarship program. One hundred percent of the kids are low-income. One hundred percent of the kids are in failing schools—C, D, or F schools. Ninety percent of the kids are minorities. Eight thousand of those parents have chosen to take these dollars and send these kids to better schools, to other schools where they can get a better education, where it’s a better fit for their children. Now the Department of Justice, using the same rules that were there to prevent discrimination against minority children, is going after some of these parents and some of these kids and saying, ‘We don’t know that we want to allow you to make this choice. We want you to go to a federal judge,’” he said on the show. (Watch the whole segment below. The education-focused part begins at 1:20.)

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The move was also condemned by school choice advocates. The American Federation for Children called the move an “assault on educational options,” and Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, said the move demonstrates that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has a “fundamental misunderstanding of the role of vouchers.”

However, the motion filed by the DOJ counters those arguments. It says that after an analysis was done of the voucher program in the spring of 2012-13 school year, the department found that vouchers impeded desegregation efforts in 34 schools in 13 districts. The motion says that on May 17, a letter was sent to the state requesting the voucher program be stopped until it received further approval from federal courts, but that letter was ignored.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.