The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) hasn’t succeeded in stopping Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, so now it’s trying to bury it in paperwork.
Last August, DOJ tried to use a 40-year-old desegregation court order, Brumfield v. Dodd, to block Louisiana’s school voucher program from continuing to operate—despite the fact that the primary beneficiaries are low-income minority students.
Now, however, the federal judge involved in the case has ordered the state to jump through reporting hoops before it can even notify students of their scholarships. The ruling requires Louisiana to submit data on scholarship students and participating private schools to DOJ; student data must be submitted at least 10 days prior to each round of awards. As the decision emphasizes, referencing the state’s OneApp administration system for the voucher program: “The State shall take steps to ensure that OneApp does not to send [sic] award notifications until the State has delivered the above information to the United States timely [sic].” In the event of any changes, the state must “promptly supplement” their submission. This kind of compliance burden creates unnecessary federal involvement and potentially lays the groundwork for future litigation.
Signed into law in 2008, the Louisiana Scholarship Program has provided a lifeline to thousands of low-income, predominantly minority children trapped in underperforming government-assigned schools. Originating in New Orleans, the scholarships were expanded statewide in 2012 to include any Louisiana student from a low-income family who would otherwise be assigned to a failing school rated “C,” “D,” or “F.”
The scholarship is in high demand. Currently 8,000 children have been granted scholarships, and there are more applicants than available awards. Parents know that scholarships are their children’s ticket to greater opportunity.
Take Lakisha, mother to nine-year-old scholarship recipient Albert Fuselier, for example. Lakisha says Albert’s old school was an environment that was not safe and hindered his learning. With the scholarship, Albert is now going to a school where he’s secure and his learning needs are met. “[He feels] much safer,” Lakisha says. “It’s been good for him. The teacher is more patient and more focused on him. He feels confident and more comfortable around his teachers now.”
DOJ’s effort to micromanage (if not halt outright) Louisiana’s scholarship program is just one example of the Administration’s pattern of hostility toward school choice.
Virginia Walden Ford, a pioneer of the school choice movement and part of the second wave of 135 students to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1966, put it best:
We didn’t fight to get into buildings. We fought to get a quality education. The idea that some people would force kids to stay in failing public schools makes no sense. School choice provides opportunities for children to get a quality education.
DOJ would do well to learn from Ford: Civil rights laws and the Constitution should not be applied in ways that harms the very students they were intended to help.