Judge: Ensure vouchers don't promote segregation

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge on Friday

gave state and federal lawyers 60 days to come up with a process by

which the

U.S. Justice Department can assure that Louisiana's private school

tuition voucher program does not contribute to segregation

of schools.

The state contends the government-funded

vouchers have no effect on racial balance, that no federal oversight is

needed and

that the U. S. Justice Department efforts to monitor the voucher

application process will hobble it with bureaucracy. The

Justice Department is seeking to review the state's assignments of

voucher students to make sure they don't promote segregation

in violation of an order from a 1971 civil rights era case,

Brumfield v. Dodd.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle gave the two sides 60 days to propose ways of satisfying Justice Department concerns without

obstructing the voucher program.

"What may have been a very good process in the 1970s might need a little tweaking in the 2000s," he said at one point.

The statewide voucher program was pushed

through the Legislature in 2012 by Gov. Bobby Jindal. It provides

taxpayer-funded

private school tuition to some low- and moderate-income families

whose children would otherwise go to a low-performing public

school.

The Justice Department, seeking to make sure

the vouchers don't affect racial balance, has asked for the right to

review the

state's assignments of vouchers 45 days before they are finalized

and before parents are notified that the assignments have

been approved.

That, said Justice Department attorney Anuria Bhargava, would make sure that a child's plans aren't disrupted in the event

that a review leads to the withdrawal of a voucher.

"We don't want to be in a position where we disrupt the education process of students attending voucher schools," Bhargava

said.

But attorney Michael Kirk, arguing for the state, said the process sought by Justice attorneys would needlessly disrupt the

state's multi-part voucher application process. State Education Superintendent John White also has said the process would

place a hardship on families by delaying notice on whether their children have been accepted in the voucher program.

Asked by Lemelle to suggest a less disruptive method, Kirk said, "I don't see any way to give them what they want ... without

disrupting the program."

Kirk also said the Justice Department's

stated aim of making sure vouchers don't promote segregation in public

schools isn't

an issue in Brumfield v. Dodd. He said the pertinent order in that

case was filed to stop the state from giving aid to private

schools that segregate — something the state now prohibits.

Smith said Friday afternoon the state will

look for a method of providing Justice lawyers with the information they

want without

interfering with the program. However, he added: "If they're going

to insist on some involvement in the operation of the program

that would take away from Louisiana families the right to choose

where there children go to school, there's not going to be

an agreement."