GOP chiefs urge Justice Department to end voucher challenge

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders urged the Justice Department on Tuesday

to end efforts that could block Louisiana from issuing new private school tuition vouchers in some districts.

The department filed a motion last month in

federal court saying new vouchers should not be issued in districts

under longstanding

federal desegregation orders unless — and until — they are

approved by a federal court. The filings say 34 school districts

in Louisiana remain under desegregation orders stemming from

civil-rights-era lawsuits, and that vouchers have been issued

in at least 22 of them.

"We strongly urge you to consider the

effects of this poorly conceived motion on the very children you profess

to be protecting,"

says the letter signed by Boehner; House Majority Leader Eric

Cantor; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers,

chairwoman of the Republican Conference; Rep. John Kline, House

education committee chairman; and Rep. Todd Rokita, chairman

of an education subcommittee.

The letter says the department's move could force students to stay in failing public schools and pressure other states to

abandon similar initiatives.

Congressional Republicans are also seeking

an explanation from Attorney General Eric Holder on why he believes the

attempt

will aid students, "particularly low income and minority

children." They ask for detailed information on correspondence on

the issue between Holder's department and the Obama

administration, and on correspondence and meetings that Justice

officials

had with "outside groups" on the voucher issue.

The Justice Department motion was filed last month in a 1971 desegregation case, Brumfield v. Dodd. Federal lawyers say vouchers

have impeded desegregation in some districts.

The department said in an emailed statement that the letter had not been received Tuesday afternoon.

"The United States is not seeking to end Louisiana's voucher program," the Justice Department said in its statement. "The

United States seeks a straightforward goal: to ensure that the State of Louisiana implements its school voucher program in

a manner that complies with the U.S. Constitution and long-standing federal desegregation orders."

The voucher program provides state-funded

private school tuition for some students who are from low- to

moderate-income families

and who are assigned to low-performing public schools — schools

graded with an F, D or C under the state accountability system.

Piloted in New Orleans in 2008, the program

was expanded statewide as part of a broad overhaul of education policy

pushed

through the Legislature last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a

Republican. An estimated 8,000 students are using vouchers to attend

private schools this year.

Opponents say the program draws badly needed money from the public school system.

Jindal's office said Tuesday that 90 percent of the students in the voucher program are minorities.

Jindal, former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., are to discuss the issue at the National Press Club in Washington

on Wednesday, according to Jindal's office.

"We appreciate the support of the House

Leadership," Jindal said in a news release. "They are exactly right

about the Obama

Administration's backwards lawsuit that is only an attempt to

curry favor with government unions and deny children an equal

opportunity to get a great education."

The department's statement said its actions

are "fully consistent with the Louisiana law that established the

voucher program,

which provides that the program is 'subject to any court-ordered

desegregation plan in effect for the school system in which

the public school is located.'"