The Black Alliance for Educational Options is joining in with the state of Louisiana to fight a federal lawsuit challenging the state's voucher program. The group, which supports the voucher program and has in the past called on the federal government to amend "outdated" desegregation orders, plans to file as intervenors on behalf of five families.
The US Department of Justice alleges that the voucher program set back integration efforts in 13 out of 34 school districts around the state, and says that areas that operate under desegregation orders should get an approval from a judge before granting voucher requests. However, supporters argue that Louisiana's scholarship program – which allows students in failing schools to transfer to a private school with the state covering tuition – chiefly serves African-American children and provides them with better educational opportunities, thus fulfilling the spirit of the integration program if not the letter.
"This program — it's one that we believe in," said Eric Lewis, Louisiana director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "We think the action taken by the federal government is wrong."
The organization will be represented by the Goldwater Institute.
The federal petition has drawn an onslaught of Republican support. Last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal spent $500,000 in campaign money on a television spot, and U.S. House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor asked the Justice Department to drop the case.
According to Danielle Dreilinger of The New Orleans Times-Picayune, 8,000 students were set to receive scholarships to attend a private school this year. It's unclear what impact the federal lawsuit will have on this number.
Prior to entering the legal fray on behalf of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, Ken Campbell, the president of the BAEO, urged the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit, saying that the desegregation program was no longer useful to Louisiana students. The goal, Campbell said, should be to use integration efforts to improve the quality of schooling available to minority children, not use those efforts as a cudgel to keep kids in failing schools.
"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."