Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’

Part 52 of 53 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

The federal government is pushing Louisiana to mandate precisely what it purports to attempt preventing, according to the state’s latest

In its brief, the state notes that the whole point of the lawsuit was “to prohibit State support for the exclusion of children from private schools based on their race,” but the federal department is mandating the state “restrict the choices made by families participating in the Scholarship program based on their race and the racial composition of the schools they wish to attend.”

Months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion in a civil-rights-era lawsuit, Brumfield v. Dodd, alleging that Louisiana’s school voucher program impedes the process of desegregation. About half of the state’s school districts are still under federal court orders to desegregate.

Two studies have shown the program increases racial integration, and the state argues the voucher program fully complies with mandates from the court orders. Furthermore, the state argues, the federal government has no legal business overseeing a state program.

In November, the court ruled that the DOJ could oversee the program as long as it didn’t impede it. The state and DOJ will meet in court next week to find a workable solution.

The DOJ is requesting extensive racial demographic information for each student applying for a voucher and the schools they’ve attended and hope to attend, 45 days before vouchers are awarded. If the federal department finds anything it doesn’t approve of, the DOJ will bring its concerns to the state. If the two parties fail to work collaboratively to find a good solution, the court will sort it out. Only then can vouchers be awarded to students.

The state contends its program complies fully with court orders. It isn’t providing any aid to private schools that discriminate — according to the voucher law, private schools willing to accept students on public scholarships must be Brumfield certified, meaning non-discriminatory as specified in the court order. It isn’t assigning students to schools in ways that upset the public schools’ racial balance — students on vouchers attend schools based on their parents’ choice.

If the court will not reconsider barring the federal government from interfering, the state proposed another solution: Louisiana will provide more data to the DOJ, and if the department can’t demonstrate the state is violating the court order, the case is dropped.

A status hearing is set for Wednesday.

DOJ’s critics note the vast majority of school voucher participants are minorities, and that the department is effectively asking for the authority to deny black students a good education.

President Obama’s Department of Justice has admitted it cannot prove that Louisiana school choice is violating desegregation efforts, yet it continues to seek the ability to tell a parent their child cannot escape a failing school because their child is not the ‘right’ race,” Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said in a statement. “The Department of Justice proposal reeks of federal government intrusion and proves the people in Washington running our federal government are more interested in skin color than they are in education.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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