The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana in federal court in New Orleans to prevent low-income students and their families in 34 public school systems from using vouchers to attend private schools for the 2014-15 academic year.
The federal government contends that the private school vouchers have “impeded the desegregation process,” reports The Times-Picayune.
The desegregation process of which feds speak has been going on for almost 40 years—since the presidential administration of Gerald R. Ford.
The Justice Department attorneys base their case on a 1975 federal court ruling (Brumfield v. Dodd) that prohibited the state from providing financial support for private schools if such support failed to further the federal government’s desegregation efforts.
Obama’s Justice Department argues that the Watergate-era case should prevent current efforts to provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to families with children who attend failing public schools.
Under Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, students from families below a certain income threshold can enroll in private schools on the state’s dime if the state gives their public schools a grade of C, D or F.
For the 2013-14 school year, notes The Times-Picayune, families in 22 of the 34 affected districts have chosen to utilize vouchers to send their kids to private schools.
The Justice Department’s main contention is that vouchers will upset the delicate racial balance of the public schools. Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish lost five white kids because of vouchers. This change bolstered “the racial identity of the school as a black school,” DOJ lawyers argue.
“The loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration,” Obama’s Justice Department asserts.
State Education Superintendent John White calls these claims “a little ridiculous,” according to The Times-Picayune. Overall, he notes, virtually all the students and families who are using vouchers are black.
White reflected that it’s odd that Justice is now using a 1975 lawsuit intended to desegregate schools to force poor black students to attend bad public schools.