By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org.
Parents shouldn’t have a voice in the lawsuit against Louisiana’s school voucher program, the U.S. Department of Justice argues in a motion filed Oct. 22.
In August, the DOJ filed a motion in a 40-year-old court case dormant since the 1970s, arguing the voucher program impedes the schools’ desegregation process. In fact, some of the state’s schools are still under decades-old court orders to desegregate.
The Goldwater Institute this fall intervened on behalf of the hundreds of parents whose children left the failing public schools for better alternatives. Later, after a media outcry, the DOJ backpedaled, saying it just wanted to make sure all of the information was processed correctly. The parents’ intervention is inappropriate, the DOJ motion argues.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal lashed out.
“The Obama Administration is attempting to tell parents to sit down and shut up. It’s never going to happen. Despite whatever evolving legal argument the Obama Administration comes up with, the voices of thousands of parents will not be silenced,” he said in a statement.
Jindal has spoken out for parents’ rights throughout the controversy, even recording a television ad with the message “Louisiana parents know best.”
The motion drew criticism from the Goldwater Institute and the Black Alliance for Educational Options. More than 90 percent of voucher participants are minorities. If the DOJ’s case is successful, many could lose their vouchers and be forced to return to failing schools.
Louisiana’s voucher program is limited to low-income families residing in average-to-failing school districts, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
“DOJ has wrongly decided to not only sue the state of Louisiana to stop the state scholarship program in 34 parishes but they want to also silence the voices of parents who are standing up for their children’s education by intervening in the lawsuit,” said Kenneth Campbell, president of BAEO, in a statement. “Denying the voice and choice of parents is immoral, and DOJ should be ashamed.”
The DOJ claims it has the families’ interests covered, and that their intervention reveals a misunderstanding about the case – the department is not trying to stop the program, it claims.
“(Families) are simply mistaken that the current proceedings implicate the interest they assert, and their motion rests on a fundamental misapprehension about the relief sought by the United States,” according to the motion.
But the DOJ hasn’t withdrawn its original motion trying to block the voucher program, the Goldwater Institute noted in a release.
“The Justice Department is attempting to block the courthouse door to school choice families. Their argument is essentially bait-and-switch, saying that they have no intention of harming the program, while at the same time insisting that it must comply with desegregation decrees,” said Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, in an email to Watchdog.
Bolick did not say whether the most recent motion would succeed.
“Certainly the opposition is not unexpected and prospects for intervention are uncertain,” he said, “but deciding this case without the families being involved would be perverse, because the entire point of desegregation cases is about ensuring educational opportunities.”
The desegregation court orders from decades ago were intended to help minority students, and even if vouchers do slow that process – a weak case, according to Richard Komer, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice – the DOJ’s actions are hurting minority students by barring them from decent schools. Furthermore, research has shown that voucher programs decrease racial segregation.
Contact Mary C. Tillotson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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