Louisiana, DoJ Near Agreement On School Vouchers

According to court documents, an agreement between Louisiana and the U.S. Justice Department over monitoring school voucher assignments is close to being forged.

Currently, the Louisiana scholarship program provides funding to low income students who attend C, D or F-rated schools to attend private schools instead. Children who are entering kindergarten also qualify, and there are around 6,750 students currently enrolled in the program.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has touted vouchers as a civil rights initiative to improve the prospects of black children attending low-performing schools. However, the Justice Department filed suit last summer saying the program made racial segregation worse in the public schools those children left. Federal Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled in November that the federal government had the right to monitor the program.

Plans were filed by both sides that included widely different ideas. Jindal says the Justice Department's plan was so restrictive that the program would have been shut down. Both sides were ordered to revise their proposals, and Louisiana lawyers said that after the last filings both sides have agreed on all but two points.

The Jindal administration does not agree with telling the federal government what public school the student would have attended and wants more flexible timelines than what the Justice Department wants to give.

The state has agreed to provide, among other data, reports certifying that voucher schools do not discriminate; the enrollment breakdown, by race, of all voucher schools; the names, addresses, districts, current public or voucher school and race of all children who apply for vouchers; and either the voucher school they were matched with or the reason they were deemed ineligible.

According to Danielle Dreilinger of the The Times-Picayune, Louisiana was initially given a pass by Judge Lemelle on stating where the student would have attended, but when asked if the information could be obtained by parents on the voucher application was told that the state doesn't have the information.

The other question is when all the information would be due; the state has a non-specific timeline. The Justice Department wants a response in March and May or as the information arrives. The state's lawyers says this is not possible and that, "It is unreasonable to demand that the state disrupt the processing of scholarship applications to provide data to the United States on a piecemeal basis."

Regarding this, it seems that Judge Lemelle is on the state's side. He wants to ensure that the monitoring process does not hold up the vouchers. According to a transcript from a status conferences the judge was quoted as saying:

The information must go to the federal government "prior to the awarding of vouchers, but (the court is) not going to stop the process for awarding the vouchers to go forward to await the (federal) government's review or to await a ruling on any objections".

The state says the justice department has no right to monitor the program because the legal case in question — Brumfield vs. Dodd — states that Louisiana cannot fund racially discriminatory private schools, but says nothing about public schools.

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