AG Eric Holder mum as Justice Department silently backs away from effort to subvert Louisiana voucher program

Nov 21, 2013 by

BATON ROUGE, La. – The U.S. Justice Department has decided to back away from its despicable effort to prevent low-income children in Louisiana from receiving a decent education.

But Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t have the courage to announce his error and apologize in public. We had to learn about the change from the judge overseeing the case.

The Justice Department angered millions of education reformers and decent citizens earlier this year when it filed a lawsuit to shut down the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which provides private school vouchers to low-income children stuck in failing public schools.

Federal officials argued that the loss of students at some of the failing high schools put those schools in jeopardy of violating racial desegregation court orders from the 1970s.

Apparently too many minority kids were leaving some of the failing schools, creating the possibility of racial imbalance in enrollment that violated the desegregation orders. Ironically, the original intent of school desegregation was to improve access to quality instruction for minorities. In this situation, the minority students were leaving their schools to receive better instruction.

Many observers considered the lawsuit nothing more than an attempt by the Obama administration to provide support for its allies in the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and their parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. The union is rabidly opposed to the voucher program because it takes students and state money away from public schools, which hire union teachers. The private schools in the voucher program are typically non-union.

“We are pleased that the Obama administration has given up its attempt to end the Louisiana Scholarship Program with this absurd lawsuit,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in statement originally published by The Weekly Standard. “It is great the Department of Justice has realized, at least for the time being, it has no authority to end equal opportunity of education for Louisiana children.”

The federal government’s effort to attack the voucher program was not popular with everyone in Washington, D.C. In September House Republican leaders, led by Speaker John Boehner, sent a letter to Holder, objecting to the lawsuit.

“I have often said that a child’s luck in the lottery of life should never determine the quality of education he or she receives, or stand in the way of his or her pursuit of the American dream,” Boehner said in a prepared statement. “Instead of trying to shut down expanded education opportunities, we should be working together to give more low-income children new hope that they can receive a high-quality education and achieve the American dream.”

At some point in recent weeks the Justice Department apparently decided to drop the lawsuit for unexplained reasons. But instead of facing the public and explaining why the federal government is backing away from its effort to keep kids trapped in miserable schools, families had to learn about the decision late last week from a U.S. District judge overseeing the case.

Judge Ivan Lemelle’s announcement came as part of a ruling he made regarding a petition from several parents of voucher students to be parties to the legal case. On Friday Lemelle ruled that the parents could not intervene in the lawsuit, perhaps because there is no longer a lawsuit.

Holder and the Justice Department had quietly slipped out of town, because the legal action cast the federal government in the villainous role of preventing poor children from attending quality schools.

Holder’s decision to drop the lawsuit without explanation is almost as sickening as the lawsuit itself. After putting the state of Louisiana through so much anxiety (and probably some preliminary legal costs), the attorney general should have the courage to face the cameras and tell us what changed his mind.

The feds are not completely backing away from the situation. Government attorneys will try to convince Lemelle at a Nov. 22 hearing to allow the Justice Department to maintain a “review process” over the voucher program, which would reportedly force the state to delay the notification of voucher awards to parents for 45 days while the feds decide whether to object to any particular scholarship.

Gov. Jindal blasted that idea as another effort by the federal government to interfere in the private educational decisions of parents.

“The obvious purpose of this gag order would be to prevent parents from learning that the Department of Justice might try to take their child’s scholarship away if it decides that the child is the wrong race,” Jindal said. “The (government) request reeks of federal government intrusion that would put a tremendous burden on the state, along with parents and teachers who want to participate in school choice.”

AG Eric Holder mum as Justice Department silently backs away from effort to subvert Louisiana voucher program – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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