Department of Justice Files Suit Against Louisiana’s Voucher Program

Unions aren’t the only ones working to stop Louisiana’s voucher program. According to Danielle Dreilinger of The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the US Justice Department is getting in on the effort as well. Specifically, the DOJ is suing the state in order to stop it implementing the voucher program during the 2014-15 academic year in districts where a federal desegregation order is in place.

This would cover up to 34 parishes around the state. The DOJ is asking federal court to bar the transfers of public school students to private school without the say-so of a federal judge. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for September 19th.

The statewide voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students in public schools graded C, D or F attend private schools at taxpayer expense. This year, 22 of the 34 systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers.
Last year, at least 570 students were affected; the program has expanded since then. The federal petition would require the state to analyze this year’s vouchers to see how they affected school desegregation. The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for vouchered private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Those orders almost  always set rules for student transfers with the school system.

A federal study shows that allowing students to use vouchers to transfer out of public schools creates greater racial imbalance in the parish. In its filing, the DOJ is arguing that in some parts of the state the voucher program has completely undone efforts to integrate schools.

John White, Louisiana’s Education Superintendent and a strong supporter of the voucher program, issued a blistering rejoinder to the lawsuit, claiming that the segregation argument is ridiculous in light of the fact that the vast majority of students who take advantage of the program are black.

Governor Bobby Jindal responded to the lawsuit in similar terms.

“After generations of being denied a choice, parents finally can choose a school for their child, but now the federal government is stepping in to prevent parents from exercising this right. Shame on them,” he said. “Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school.”

The case has been assigned to Judge Ivan Lemelle. He ruled in November that elements of Jindal’s 2012 education overhaul were unconstitutional,  because paying to implement the voucher program would hurt Tangipahoa Parish’s ability to pay for the programs it uses to comply with its federal desegregation order. The state’s appeal in that case is pending.