Judge Requires Federal Oversight of School Choice in Louisiana

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice by requiring Louisiana to allow federal oversight of its school choice program, a decision that suggests the court’s acceptance of further involvement by the federal government in local school choice policies.

The Washington Free Beacon reported that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said the ruling could lead to a lengthy review process for applicants that may open it up to extensive federal regulations.

As Breitbart News’ Ben Shapiro reported in August, Attorney General Eric Holder’s DOJ sued the state of Louisiana and its school voucher program which provided alternative opportunities to children who would otherwise be forced to remain in failing public schools. The DOJ claimed that the school choice program slowed the “desegregation progress.”

As Shapiro noted:

A full 90% of the children who benefit from the voucher program are black. The remaining 10% came from 22 school districts under desegregation orders handed down five decades ago, which prompted the DOJ to state, “the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.” As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Justice is claiming that the voucher program may be illegal because minority kids made their failing public schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.” As black kids go to better schools, the schools left behind become less integrated, the logic goes. So keep those black kids in those failing schools.

At first, the DOJ wanted future vouchers to be distributed only by a federal judge. Earlier last week, however, the government decided instead to seek federal supervision over the school choice program.

Deciding in favor of the DOJ, Judge Ivan Lemelle said, “The Court has an obligation […] to take reasonable steps in the process whereby the voucher program is not being used to promote segregation.”

Lemelle’s decision requires the DOJ and the state of Louisiana to develop a reporting process within 60 days.

The judge also acknowledged the Louisiana state analysis that found the school voucher program actually improves desegregation efforts. He said he did not wish to disrupt the program.

“The Judge has indicated he wants both parties to determine a process that does not allow the scholarship program to send state aid to segregated private schools,” said Jindal in a statement. “The state already ensures that state aid does not flow to segregated private schools.”

“We will draw a hard line against allowing the federal government to control the scholarship program and handpick schools for Louisiana’s children,” Jindal added. “No parents should have to get the President’s permission – no matter which party that President is in – just to put their kid in the school of their choice.”

According to the Free Beacon, the DOJ would require the state to provide information on all students applying for vouchers 45 days before they are granted, as well as information about students already enrolled in the program.

Student data required would include name, race, student I.D. number, address, and the student’s home public school district.

If the federal government decides, given the data provided, that a voucher would upset the racial balance of a public school, it could then request “the assistance” of the court to stop individual parent applications for their children.

Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute represented parents who attempted to intervene in the case. He told the Free Beacon that the DOJ’s required procedure would cause negative consequences for the school voucher program.

“It’s clearly a burden,” Riches said. “It’s going to be impossible for the state to provide all the information.”

“Whatever [the DOJ’s] view is, if they think the voucher prevented racial integration then they could go after individual vouchers,” he added. “The fact that the DOJ is still persisting on seeking the court’s assistance in going after individual vouchers is a threat to the voucher program.”


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