Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), said that it is time to revisit school desegregation orders that might no longer be useful, according Danielle Dreilinger of The Times-Picayune.
Campbell remarks came in response to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit “charging [that] Louisiana’s school voucher program hurts desegregation efforts.” He also said educational excellence is more important for racial progress than equity in a given school.
“We can’t ignore the kind of history of efforts to stop or block integration in schools in the South in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. But he added: “I think in 2013 we have to have a very different viewpoint in some regards. In the name of racial harmony or racial integration, we’re going to assign kids to failing schools? These aren’t easy issues.”
BAEO has been a supporter of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which lets low-income children in C-, D- and F-graded schools attend participating private schools at taxpayer expense. The group is urging the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit.
Almost 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate school facilities were inherently unequal, 34 of Louisiana’s 69 local school systems, including those of Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes, remain under court-imposed desegregation orders. These orders dictate that the systems must try to attain racial balance in schools, typically involving magnet schools and busing.
According to the Justice Department, the Louisiana voucher program undermines the orders by funding students to leave their public schools. For example, Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish lost five white children to vouchers, “reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.”
Jefferson Parish, whose desegregation order ended in 2011, should not be affected by the suit, according to School Board attorney Mike Fanning.
The federal government’s petition would prohibit the state from assigning vouchers to students in school systems under desegregation orders without the consent of a federal judge. According to Campbell, in many public school systems, real racial balance is impossible because white families have moved away or put their children in private school.
[Campbell] said it’s unjust to put up roadblocks to vouchers. Doing so, he said, essentially tells the state it must make poor black children stay in schools that rich children can leave. After all, if they had the money, those families could choose private school and disrupt integration on their own.