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Editorial: Federal lawsuit over voucher program perplexing

Last Modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 5:43 PM The federal government’s decision to sue the state of Louisiana over its implementation of its school voucher program befuddles.

The U.S. Department of Justice late last week filed a petition in federal court to block the 2014-2015 vouch program, claiming that the program runs counter to the federal desegregation order that has been in place for decades in Louisiana.

The voucher program, initiated for the 2012-2013 school year, allows low-income students attending public schools graded C, D or F to use state money to transfer to private schools.

In its petition, the Justice Department says the state of Louisiana did not ‘‘consult with or obtain authorization’’ from federal courts overseeing the desegregation orders before handing out the vouchers. It points out that vouchers have been awarded to students in at least 22 school districts operating under school desegregation orders that date back at least 35 years.

State officials, though, point out that the desegregation order, in part, prevented state money from being used to enable white students to escape racially mixed schools.

State Superintendent of Education John White pointed out the irony, saying that the vast majority of students who are using vouchers are black.

‘‘ ... We’ve got a scholarship program: 100 percent of the kids are low-income, 100 percent of the kids are in failing schools — C, D, or F schools, 90 percent of the kids are minorities,’’ said Gov. Bobby Jindal. ‘‘Eight thousand of those parents have chosen to take these dollars and send their kids to better schools, to other schools where they can get a better education, where it is a better fit for their children.

‘‘Now the Department of Justice is using the same rules that were there to prevent discrimination against minority children and is going after some of these parents and some of these kids and saying, ‘we don’t know that we want to allow you to make this choice. We want you to have to go a federal judge.’ We need to provide a great education for every child.”

The voucher program certainly has issues. Calling it a scholarship program is flat out wrong — there’s no scholarship or earning of the voucher money by a student on merit. Its first-year implementation was clumsy with several school applicants being exposed by newspapers around the state as being ill-prepared to host students. And there’s the question of whether the voucher program violates the Louisiana Constitution by allowing public funds to be directed to private education.

But the federal government, in this case, appears to be lawyerin’ up the wrong tree.

It’s frivolous at best and points to the lack of homework on the part of the federal government. This decision will likely cost federal and state dollars on a petition that should have never been filed.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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