Justice Department opposes parents’ intervention in voucher case
Thu, 2013-10-24 14:32 Harlan Kirgan
When properly run, state and local voucher programs can be entirely consistent with legal requirements to desegregate schools.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is opposing an attempt by parents of Louisiana students attending private schools with taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers to intervene in a legal case linking the voucher issue to desegregation orders.
The department filed a federal court motion in September saying new vouchers should not be issued in school districts that are under longstanding federal desegregation orders unless approved by a federal judge. The department also said it needs more information from the state on the program. A Nov. 22 hearing on the issue is set for U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
Parents and an organization supporting vouchers, the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options, recently sought to intervene in the case to oppose the Justice Department effort.
Justice lawyers said in a Tuesday court filing that the parents have no cause to intervene because the motion doesn’t threaten existing vouchers, and because the motion doesn’t seek to end the voucher program — only to make sure it complies with desegregation orders.
“When properly run, state and local voucher programs can be entirely consistent with legal requirements to desegregate schools,” the department said. “The Motion does not address, and will not dictate the outcome of, any particular voucher award.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a voucher proponent, has criticized the Justice Department efforts as an attack by Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama on children trying to escape failing public schools. He accused the department Wednesday of trying to “muzzle” parents.
“The Obama Administration is attempting to tell parents to sit down and shut up. It’s never going to happen,” Jindal said in a news release. “Despite whatever evolving legal argument the Obama Administration comes up with, the voices of thousands of parents will not be silenced.”
The state’s voucher program offers taxpayer-funded private school tuition to students from low- to moderate-income families attending low-performing public schools.
Also known as a state scholarship program, it was piloted in New Orleans in 2008 and expanded statewide as part of a broad education overhaul that Jindal pushed through the Legislature in 2012.
The program added more than 1,800 students this year, according to the first official tally for the current 2013-14 school year released Monday.
The state Department of Education said 6,751 students are enrolled in 126 private schools across the state with taxpayer dollars. That’s up from 4,944 students using vouchers at the same point last year, in the first year of the statewide program.
The program is estimated to cost the state $36 million in the current budget year.
Its popularity has grown despite various legal challenges and over the objections of opponents who fear taxpayer-funded private tuition diverts money needed to improve public schools
Since the program’s expansion, critics have raised concerns about the quality of some of the private schools taking voucher students, and the incomplete test results that have been released showed mixed results about the performance of students in the program.