August 24, 2013
The U.S. Justice Department is trying to stop the state from distributing school vouchers in any district that remains under a desegregation court order.
In papers filed Saturday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the Justice Department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to nearly 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and “many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.”
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal called the department’s action “shameful” and said President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder “are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents.”
“The Obama administration thinks parents should have to seek their approval any time parents want to send their child to a school of their choice,” Jindal said in a news release. “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. Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school.”
Louisiana has 70 school districts, and 34 remain under desegregation court orders, many of which are decades old.
The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders. It’s asking the court, starting with the 2014-15 school year, to permanently block the state from awarding vouchers in districts that are under desegregation orders, unless those districts seek court approval.
Louisiana lawmakers approved a voucher program in 2008 for low-income New Orleans students who were in failing schools. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was later expanded statewide. It allows children in school districts graded C, D or F to receive public money to attend private schools.
Jindal called school choice “a moral imperative.”
“Make no mistake — this motion is a threat to the children in our state who only get one chance to grow up and deserve the opportunity to get the best education so they can pursue their dreams,” Jindal said of the Justice Department filing.