Research Finds Louisiana Voucher Program Doesn’t Harm Desegregation

A new study of Louisiana’s school voucher program reveals that the program does not harm federal desegregation efforts. Louisiana filed the study in federal court on November 7th in response to the Obama administration’s desire to make sure the state’s voucher program will not hurt desegregation efforts that have measured several decades.

The study was conducted in response to a request from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which has asked what effect the school voucher program has had on the racial makeup of participating schools. The DOJ has also filed an injunction to stop Louisiana from granting vouchers next school year unless participants receive court approval, writes Caitlin Emma of Politico.

The school voucher program actually improved the racial imbalance in about 16 school districts, according to the study. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has repeatedly pressed President Barack Obama to visit some of the schools to see the results firsthand.

Boston University political science Professor Christine Rossell was hired by Louisiana to analyze the effect of vouchers in 34 districts in the state under desegregation orders. According Rossell’s findings, vouchers improved or had no effect on racial imbalance in all but four of the districts.

Rossell also found that the effects were miniscule in the districts where racial imbalance worsened. The state’s voucher program allows students to transfer out of failing public schools into private schools using public funds. The majority of the students participating in the 2012-13 school year were non-white, and a total of 551 students used the vouchers.

Rossell’s analysis looks at the district demographics during the 2011-12 school year, before the voucher program expanded statewide, and during the 2012-13 school year, after the expansion. She used the “interracial exposure index” to determine racial balance in each school district, something she said she has used in dozens of school desegregation cases she has worked on.

According to the DOJ, it was still reviewing Louisiana’s court filings and would respond with its own brief. If the court finds that the voucher program doesn’t harm federal desegregation efforts, the DOJ then has asked that an analysis like Rossell’s be conducted each year.

Louisiana also filed a statement from state Superintendent John White, who noted that more than 90% of students using vouchers last school year were minority students, the vast majority of whom were African-American — and more than 85% of scholarship students for the 2013-14 school year are black.

Of the 34 districts considered in the analysis, DOJ is a party to the desegregation orders in 24. The DOJ identified 10 additional districts subject to desegregation orders in cases where DOJ isn’t involved.

Louisiana, in a brief, answered two questions the court will consider November 22nd. Does the federal desegregation order apply to the school voucher program, requiring the state to get permission from the court before issuing vouchers, and if it does, is there a need to create a process of review?

According to the brief, federal desegregation law doesn’t apply because the law specifically targets schools, not programs. The voucher program assists students, not schools, and all of the participating schools are compliant with desegregation law, according to the brief.

The DOJ has no basis to regulate the program by conducting an analysis of racial imbalance every year and it has no basis in requiring the participants to seek court approval, the brief said.

“The scholarship program does not provide aid to private racial discrimination, and it does not discriminate or segregate on the basis of race,” the brief said. “Rather, the program is designed to empower parents to decide what school is best for their own children and to provide a desperately needed alternative for children from impoverished families who would otherwise be trapped in failing public schools, the vast majority of whom – over 85% – are African-American.”