Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is fighting back against the Obama administration’s push to stop his state’s school voucher program, which allows children from low-income areas to attend better performing schools.
The Republican governor’s office announced Thursday the State of Louisiana has filed a motion to delay a petition from the Justice Department that is trying to stop the state from distributing school vouchers in any district that remains under a desegregation court order.
In papers filed last month in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the Justice Department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to nearly 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and "many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process."
Jindal argues the Obama administration is pushing to stop the program to satisfy their union allies at the expense of poor children seeking a better education. He says the administration’s claim the program is violating a desegregation law is a “backwards” argument.
“Despite the fact that 90 percent of students in the program are minorities and 100 percent of students are from low-income families, the President and Attorney General are trying to deny equal opportunity to these children by using rules that were set up to prevent discrimination,” Jindal said in a press release. “It's backwards and immoral.”
Louisiana has 70 school districts, and 34 remain under desegregation court orders, many of which are decades old.
The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders. It's asking the court, starting with the 2014-15 school year, to permanently block the state from awarding vouchers in districts that are under desegregation orders, unless those districts seek court approval.
Louisiana lawmakers approved a voucher program in 2008 for low-income New Orleans students who were in failing schools. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was later expanded statewide. It allows children in school districts graded C, D or F to receive public money to attend private schools.
A federal desegregation lawsuit for Louisiana was originally filed in 1971 and court papers list the case as closed in 1976. However, there have been several filings in the case in the past several months, including the one Saturday by the Justice Department.
In arguing that the voucher program had hurt desegregation efforts, the Justice Department cited an example of Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish. It said the school lost five white students because of the voucher program, "reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school."
It also said Celilia Primary School in St. Martin Parish School District is a majority-white school in a majority-black district, and it lost six black students because of vouchers, "reinforcing the school's racial identity as a white school."
State Education Superintendent John White told the Times-Picayune last month that almost all the students using vouchers are black and "it's a little ridiculous" to argue that students' departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white. He also said it's ironic that rules established to combat racism were being called on to keep black students in failing schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report