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Justice Department tries to block Louisiana's school voucher program

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AP

The Justice Department is trying to stop a school vouchers program in Louisiana that attempts to help families send their children to independent schools instead of under-performing public schools.

The agency wants to stop the program, led by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, in any school district that remains under a desegregation court order.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the agency said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to roughly 570 public school students in districts that are still under such orders and that "many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process."

The federal government argues that allowing students to attend independent schools under the voucher system could create a racial imbalance in public school systems protected by desegregation orders.

Jindal -- who last year expanded the program that started in 2008 -- said this weekend that the department's action is "shameful" and said President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder "are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents."

The Justice Department says Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 of 34 districts remaining under desegregation orders.

Jindal called school choice "a moral imperative."

The lawsuit attempts to bar the state from assigning students in those systems to private schools unless a federal judge agrees to it, and a court hearing is tentatively set for Sept. 19, according to The Times-Picayune.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in May that the state could not use the allotted voucher money, resulting in Jindal finding about $40 million in other public funds to help the roughly 8,000 students already enrolled in the program this school year.

The case is scheduled to be heard by a judge who has already ruled that parts of Jindal's 2012 expansion were unconstitutional, and a state appeal is pending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.