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In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears

By   /   November 20, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 27 of 126 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Louisiana may be in a little less danger of having the federal government shut down its school voucher program, but Gov. Bobby Jindal said the government’s next move could “red tape and regulate the program to death.”

“The Department of Justice needs to take a step back and think about what if it was them,” said Mitzi Crain-Dillon, who has two children attending a private school through a voucher and one daughter remaining in the local public school.

“As a student, not just the parent but the student, wouldn’t they want to have a great opportunity in life? Isn’t that what everyone wants to be in America for?”

The court on Friday will hear arguments over whether the the decades-old desegregation court order applies to the voucher program.


STILL FIGHTING: Gov. Bobby Jindal vowed to keep fighting for Louisiana schoolkids, even as the feds switch tactics.

Since August the DOJ has been mountingbackpedaling on, and still pursuing a court case that put the state’s voucher program in jeopardy, arguing that the program may violate longstanding court orders to desegregate schools. Its initial motion tried to block the state from issuing vouchers without federal permission, then an amendment to that motion said — without withdrawing the previous request — it simply wanted to make sure the state collected and filed appropriate data and otherwise complied with federal law in issuing vouchers.

The department attempted to bar families from intervening in the case, and on Nov. 18 abandoned its request to block the program.

Jindal and 30 U.S. senators have opposed the department’s actions throughout the case.

The Justice Department’s argument is based on false information, say lawyers involved in the case.

“We have by far the stronger argument. This was a very strange motion that the DOJ brought,” said Jon Riches, attorney for the Goldwater Institute, which had been poised to intervene on behalf of Louisiana families. The institute will file as friend of the court.

Goldwater attorneys argue that the federal desegregation orders don’t apply to the voucher program. Even if they did, results of a study by the University of Arkansas and the state’s own report show a positive change in the racial makeup of schools as a result of the voucher program.

The program is only open to low-income families assigned to average-to-failing schools, and more than 90 percent of recipients are minorities.

“A lot of civil rights activists would roll in their grave if they knew they had the liberal left opposing a for-minority choice where to send their kids,” said state Rep. Kirk Talbot, who co-sponsored 2012 legislation that expanded the voucher program.

The Louisiana Association of Educators supports the DOJ’s actions, but it’s not directly involved in the case, said Deborah Meaux, president of Louisiana’s National Education Association affiliate.

“I think it is appropriate,” she said. “I think the state has a duty to inform the Department of Justice, at least the judges in each of the districts, as to the racial mixture of kids so that the judges can make sure that the balances that they’ve set up for each district are not disturbed. ”

Crain-Dillon’s family is biracial, and she said she’s disappointed the DOJ has brought race into the conversation.

“Just to know that they’re trying to base (the lawsuit) on a desegregation order that was put in place 50 years ago, it’s just saddening. We’re in 2013; we’re supposed to be moving forward and moving away from those times, and if that’s so important … why not just start shifting kids and make it 50-50?” she said. “People try and hinder these kids trying to better themselves, and (hinder) their parents trying to better their kids.”

She’s been pleased with the private Christian school her ninth-grade daughter, Taylor, and seventh-grade son, Titus, are attending with vouchers. The kids are challenged more, and she receives emails from teachers about school projects the students are working on, and even got a text message informing her of a power outage at the school.

At the public school where her other daughter attends, she has waited more than a week for a response from a teacher about an issue she feels is serious.

“She acknowledged the email, but that’s been it,” she said.

Taylor and Titus are happy with the school, as well, she said.

“They love the school. They really want to go next year, they want to attend, so it makes it difficult. They don’t understand this whole lawsuit and everything; they just think it’s something they want to do so they should be able to do it,” she said. “Now they’ve gone there, they’ve made friends. It’s possible they may need to go to a whole new school next year, and they’re at an age where changing schools isn’t a cool deal anymore. It can be stressful for a kid.”

“All that takes a factor, just having that in the back of your head, ‘I may not go here next year.’ It’s kind of a downer.”

If Louisiana schools are failing, Jindal and Superintendent John White aren’t doing their job, Meaux said.

“There’s too much emphasis at the state level on the vouchers, and not enough emphasis on public school education,” she said. “They keep saying our schools are failing, then they should be fixing them, and not trying to aid an alternative system, a system that’s not constitutionally endowed with the authority to provide education.”

Louisiana families benefit from the voucher program, said state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, who also co-sponsored the voucher expansion bill.

NO JUSTIFICATION: There’s no legal, ethical, or moral justification for the DOJ's lawsuit, said Louisiana state rep Alan Seabaugh.

NO JUSTIFICATION: There’s no legal, ethical, or moral justification for the DOJ’s lawsuit, said Louisiana state rep Alan Seabaugh.

“The only students eligible are economically disadvantaged who are in failing schools, and I have a hard time finding a problem with (taking) a student who’s in a failing school and giving him an opportunity to go somewhere else. It simply boils down to that,” he said. “If you have a student whose parents can’t afford private school and he’s stuck in a failing school, if you offer me a program that gets that kid out of that school and somewhere else, I’m going to be for that program.”

He called the lawsuit “one of the most wrongheaded things that’s come down the pike in a long time.”

“There’s no legal, ethical, or moral justification for the federal government’s position on that lawsuit,” he said.

When the state Legislature passed the voucher bill, Seabaugh expected local school boards to challenge it, because the money follows the students out of the public school and into a private school. Similar challenges have come against school choice programs in Arizona, Alabama, and several other states.

The DOJ challenge, Seabaugh said, was a surprise.

“I did not see the federal government lawsuit coming because it’s hard to predict stupidity,” he said.

“When we give out food stamps, for example, to low-income people we don’t say, ‘Here’s your food stamp. You can go to the grocery store that’s nearest you, and that’s it. If they don’t have fresh fruit, you don’t get fresh fruit. If they have criminal activity in the parking lot, too bad,” Talbot said. “For some reason, that’s what we did with education. Your choices are limited to what your mailbox address is.”

Read more about the lawsuits here and here:




Part of 126 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  55. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools
  101. Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic
  102. Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools
  103. Philly school district facing another bleak budget
  104. Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school
  105. For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up
  106. At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost
  107. Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say
  108. Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement
  109. Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’
  110. Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short
  111. Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge
  112. Missouri parents want more choice in education
  113. U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill
  114. Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature
  115. PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula
  116. In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K
  117. AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules
  118. NC school voucher program gets temporary green light
  119. Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families
  120. Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says
  121. Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools
  122. PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly
  123. Feds consider joining school choice game
  124. Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others
  125. California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come
  126. School choice is popular — when parents know about it
  127. What can private schools learn from charters?


Mary was formerly a national education reporter for Watchdog.org.