Bobby Jindal: War with feds over school vouchers still on
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that regardless of what the Department of Justice is claiming, his state is no closer to a resolution in a school voucher lawsuit that has appalled high-profile conservative school choice advocates.
The Justice Department sent a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John Boehner, saying the state has agreed to hand over information that the federal government has wanted for a while about the voucher program’s effect on the racial makeup of participating schools. That move might bring both parties closer to a resolution over the August suit, the letter said.
But Jindal blasted the DOJ’s letter, calling it a “PR stunt” because the central component of the lawsuit still stands. DOJ has not withdrawn its request for an injunction prohibiting the program from granting scholarships next school year unless a federal court first approves parents’ decisions about where they want to send their children to school.
“The Obama Administration’s latest maneuver is nothing more than a PR stunt,” Jindal said in a statement. “While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration’s real motive still stands — forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school.”
“The Obama Administration’s letter is disingenuous,” the statement added. “The administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality, the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist yet. And they know it.”
The Obama administration has said that Louisiana’s school voucher program, which allows children to transfer out of failing public schools into private schools on the public’s dime, has hurt desegregation efforts in Louisiana. DOJ said the program has disrupted the racial balance of the participating schools. That claim has outraged Jindal and other conservative school choice supporters, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and House Republican leadership.
In its lawsuit, the federal government said Louisiana hasn’t provided data on students being helped by the program or an analysis of how the vouchers affected the racial composition of schools involved in the program.
Last week, Jindal hesitated to say that both parties might come to a resolution and instead insisted that DOJ drop the lawsuit. On Sept. 17, Boehner and other House Republican leaders wrote Attorney General Eric Holder saying the lawsuit was “extremely troubling and paradoxical in nature.” Boehner asked how the lawsuit will allow low-income and minority children to better their education opportunities and he asked that DOJ respond to the letter by Oct. 1.
Jindal has noted that Louisiana officials already collect most of the data DOJ requested. The U.S. District Court in New Orleans ordered the state to analyze the voucher awards for the 2013-14 school year in any school now under a federal desegregation order and provide the federal government with that analysis by Nov. 7. A hearing before the court has been scheduled for Nov. 22.
“We are pleased to update you about a key development in this case that occurred late last week,” the letter reads. “On Friday, following a meeting of the two sides convened by the court, Louisiana agreed to provide information on the voucher program that the department had originally requested in May 2013 and that the state had, up until now, largely withheld. This is thus a major step forward and puts the parties on a path to resolving the primary issue that motivated the department’s court filing in the first place.”
The majority of the roughly 8,000 students statewide using the vouchers this school year are black.
“This represents a significant breakthrough,” DOJ’s letter to Boehner reads. “We are pleased that Louisiana finally has agreed to provide the necessary information to the department. It is only regrettable that the department had to resort to court involvement in this case in order to obtain it.”
Bush, a major school choice advocate, has joined Jindal in his outrage.
“This is purely political, perhaps payback for political elections of the past,” Bush said while addressing the lawsuit with Jindal at the National Press Club on Sept. 18. “I have no idea why they have made this decision, but I do know for a fact that we need to transform our education system state by state to assure that more than just 25 or 30 percent of our kids are college- or career-ready.”
DOJ has contended that the goal of the lawsuit isn’t to shut down Louisiana’s school voucher program. Its petition cites examples in which desegregation efforts have been harmed. For example, six black children left a school in St. Martin Parish District, “thereby increasing the difference between the school’s black student percentage from the district’s and reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district,” the petition reads.
Jindal has called these examples “absurd.” He also called on President Barack Obama to meet with Louisiana’s school choice students and parents and explain to them how the lawsuit will further their education opportunities.
“What they’re saying is, they think it would be better to force those six black kids in St. Martin’s Parish to go back to an F-rated school,” he said last week. “I’m not [a] lawyer, but to me that is legally, factually and morally absurd.”