School Choice Program for Poor Kids in Failing Schools Is Bad for Racial Progress, Justice Dept Argues

The U.S. Justice Department is trying to stop a school voucher program in Louisiana, arguing that the program impedes race-based desegregation efforts.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program provides a voucher to low-income students to attend a private school if their public school demonstrates poor performance.

Providing these students an opportunity for a better education is problematic, the Justice Department argues, because some of those students chose a school that was less racially diverse than the public school they left.

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The Justice Department is not asking the courts to stop the voucher program entirely, but only in the school districts that are under federal desegregation orders.

"As of the date of this filing," the Justice Department wrote in a petition to the courts, "the State has awarded vouchers for the 2013-2014 school year to students in at least 22 districts operating under federal desegregation orders, many of which may impede the desegregation processes in those districts without authorization from the appropriate federal court."

The petition argues that the voucher program both made some schools more white, as some black students used their voucher to leave predominantly white schools, and some schools more black, as some white students used the vouchers to leave predominantly black schools.

The voucher program was implemented under the leadership of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). In a response to the petition, Jindal argued that the Justice Department's actions would harm the very students that they are ostensibly trying to protect – poor minorities. And, providing poor children in failing schools with a chance for a better education is a "moral imperative."

"This is shameful," Jindal said. The Obama administration is "trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents. It's the latest example of government trying to tell parents that they know best. This action highlights the fundamental disregard of the federal government for the rights of parents to make choices for their children.

"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. 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."

There were about 12,000 applicants for about 8,000 vouchers in 2013, Jindal's office reported, and close to 90 percent of the students in the program are racial minorities. Over 93 percent of the parents of those students reported satisfaction with their new school.

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