School Voucher Fight Heats Up in Louisiana

Posted: Nov 07, 2013 2:00 PM
School Voucher Fight Heats Up in Louisiana

The Department of Justice is suing Louisiana. Why? Because they believe the state’s amazingly successful school voucher program “frustrates and impedes the desegregation process,” or something. To borrow a line from perhaps the most loathed Supreme Court Justice on the High Court, history didn’t stop in 1965. That is to say, Jim Crow is as dead today as slavery -- as are all other legal institutions founded on racial inequality. The DOJ is therefore using an old and outdated court order to keep poor kids in failing schools. This logic, incidentally, is quickly exposed as wrong-headed when one realizes roughly 90 percent of Louisiana’s school voucher recipients are -- wait for it -- minority students.

The Goldwater Institute, which is representing four families in this protracted legal battle, released the following press release today after filing a brief in a federal court on Wednesday:

Desegregation orders were meant as a mechanism to expand educational options for minority children, not as a tool to keep them out, Louisiana families represented by the Goldwater Institute told a federal court in a brief filed yesterday.

The Institute is representing four Louisiana families, as well as the Louisiana Black Alliance for Education Options, a network of thousands of families across the state. The families are asking the court to dismiss recent attempts by the federal government to end a popular school voucher program in the state. The Justice Department contends that the school voucher program, which is overwhelmingly being used by minority families, “impedes desegregation” and must be approved by one or more courts that are supervising desegregation orders.

According to Clint Bolick, lead attorney for the families and noted defender of school choice programs who served in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the notion that the voucher scholarship program violates desegregation orders is off base.

“The Scholarship Program cannot be shoe-horned into a lawsuit and set of remedies that were triggered by, justified by, and limited to a very different program and set of circumstances,” wrote Bolick in a response filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

He continued:

“This program carries forward the spirit and ethos of the civil rights movement,” said Bolick. “Shutting it down would set the clock back by forcing the most disadvantaged children back into failing schools.”

More than 90 percent of the children benefitting from vouchers are minorities. The outcome of this legal battle in Louisiana has implications for school choice programs throughout the country. Standing desegregation orders remain in effect in over 200 school districts nationally, meaning that a DOJ victory in this case could similarly jeopardize school choice programs across the country.

To put it differently, the stakes are high and the outcome will reverberate across many school districts in the United States. This is why Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is on the move, taking on the special interests who are fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo on the most tenuous of grounds. Those who truly believe in opportunity for all will recognize this lawsuit for what it really is: a misguided ploy to impede progress and consign a generation of young people to mediocrity. Let us hope that the voices of reason and justice prevail in this case. Anything less would be unfair to Louisiana children and their families.

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