In what is turning out to be a never-ending tug of war between the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the U.S. Justice Department, the fate of four applicants who benefit from the scholarship program is hanging by a thread as the federal suit continues.
The 2012-2013 scholarship program is accused of violating civic rights in the suit filed against them in August.
Governor Bobby Jindal lambasted the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday for opposing the request of four families to join the state as defendants in a federal lawsuit over school vouchers and desegregation. The families, whose children participate in the voucher program, are being assisted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Judge Ivan Lemelle must decide whether to let them intervene in the case.
"The Obama administration wants to deny a voice to the very people who will be harmed by this ridiculous lawsuit," Jindal said in a statement, accusing the department of "trying to muzzle parents who simply want to express an opinion about why their children should have the opportunity to escape failing schools."
According to Danielle Dreilinger of Nola.com, vouchers officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program let low-income children who are new to the public school system or who attend C-, D- or F-rated schools attend participating private schools at taxpayer expense.
In August, the federal government filed a suit saying that 2012-13 voucher assignments violated civil rights by worsening racial imbalance in 13 Louisiana school systems. Voucher proponents, however, said the program primarily serves, and thus primarily benefits, African American children. That includes the children of the four applicants.
In September, Attorneys for the Black Alliance for Educational Options said that the ability of those children "to continue receiving scholarships and to pursue high-quality educational opportunities chosen by their parents would be directly and gravely impaired" if the state loses the suit.
According to the Justice Departments lawyers, the four applicants do not meet the legal standards to intervene in the court case. It contends that the applicants do not have a legal interest because "the United States is not seeking to end the program or to take vouchers away from particular students."
The initial federal petition sought to bar the state from automatically assigning vouchers next year to children in parishes under longstanding school desegregation orders governed by the decision in Brumfield v. Dodd. The day after Black Alliance for Educational Options filed its request to intervene, the Justice Department called on the court to decide only whether Brumfield v. Dodd applies to the voucher program and, if it does, to figure out whether the longstanding desegregation orders should be amended to allow the state to review voucher assignments for compliance.
Justice's Tuesday court filing reiterates that the case is now simply an "effort to institute a process to ensure that the state provides information and complies with its desegregation obligations."
Jindal has made political hay out of the lawsuit for weeks. On Wednesday, he pointed out Wednesday that "the U.S. Department of Justice has never withdrawn the request it made in the original motion to seek a permanent injunction of the program."
A court hearing to advance the case is scheduled for November 22.