DOJ sues to block Louisiana school voucher program alleging plan violates federal desegregation orders
According to The Times-Picayune, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed suit in federal court against the State of Louisiana to prevent the implementation of the state’s private school voucher program at public schools currently under federal desgregation orders. DOJ claims that during the first year of its operation the program has “impeded the desegregation process.”
Thirty-four school systems could be affected. Under the lawsuit, the state would be barred from assigning students in those systems to private schools unless a federal judge agreed to it. This year, 22 of the 34 systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers.
DOJ’s primary argument is that letting students leave for vouchered private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Those orders almost always set rules for student transfers with the school system.
Federal analysis found that last year’s Louisiana vouchers increased racial imbalance in 34 historically segregated public schools in 13 systems. DOJ goes so far as to charge that in some of those schools, “the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration.”
State Education Superintendent John White took issue with the suit’s primary argument and its characterization of the program. Almost all the students using vouchers are black, he said. Given that framework, “it’s a little ridiculous” to argue that students’ departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white, he said. He also thought it ironic that rules set up to combat racism were being called on to keep black students in failing schools.
Gov. Jindal blasted DOJ’s suit. ”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,” he said. ”Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Ivan Lemelle. He ruled in November 2012 that elements of Jindal’s 2012 education overhaul were unconstitutional, because paying to implement the voucher program would hurt Tangipahoa Parish’s ability to pay for the programs it uses to comply with its federal desegregation order. The state’s appeal in that case is pending.
Source: The Times-Picayune, 8/24/13, By Danielle Dreilinger
[Editor's Note: In November 2012, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in The Times-Picayune reporting on Judge Lemelle's decision that Governor Jindal’s voucher program in Tangipahoa Parish conflicts with a decades-old desegregation case in the parish.]