Attorney General Eric Holder is being asked to reconsider the lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice challenging Louisiana’s voucher program. In a letter to Holder, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both Republicans, write to say that the lawsuit is against the interests of Louisiana’s students and ask Holder to put a stop to what they call “a poorly conceived motion” that will harm the students that Holder is claiming to want to protect.
In addition to a plea for a reconsideration, the letter asks Holder to turn over a number of documents including correspondence between the Justice Department and the White House regarding the lawsuit by October 1st.
Vouchers, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, allow low-income students to attend certain private and parochial schools at taxpayer expense. The students must be in schools graded C, D or F in the state’s assessment system, or be entering kindergarten for the first time.
The federal petition contends that the 2012-13 program impeded desegregation attempts in 34 historically segregated schools in 13 districts by allowing children to transfer out of public schools. About half of the state’s school districts are still under desegregation orders that aim to improve racial balance.
The aim of the lawsuit is to prevent Louisiana from allowing students to transfer to private schools using vouchers in districts operating under a desegregation order without the say-so of a judge. In addition, the lawsuit is demanding that Louisiana turn over voucher enrollment data for deseg districts. Louisiana currently has 34 districts operating under desegregation orders, of which 22 have students who are taking advantage of vouchers to go to private schools. The final numbers for the voucher program this year won’t be available until October 1st.
In response, Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White have said the program benefits black children, who make up the overwhelming majority of participants.
“The Obama Administration is using old desegregation rules designed to prevent discrimination despite the fact that ninety percent of students in the program are minorities,” Jindal said in a statement Tuesday.
The leading U.S. Republicans think the case could hurt voucher programs in other states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, vouchers currently exist in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
According to Danielle Dreilinger of The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Boehner and Cantor believe that Holder’s allegations that voucher programs impede desegregation “are troubling,” and could make other states reticent to pursue similar voucher programs within their own borders.