Louisiana vouchers: Lessons to be learned

Sep 19, 2013 by

Deborah Simmons – The more we move forward on education reform, the more backward we become.

Thanks to President Obama’s Justice Department, run by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., a federal judge in Louisiana is scheduled to hear arguments Friday in a lawsuit that could put a critical education reform genie back in its bottle.

The Justice Department’s suit essentially says this: Louisiana’s public voucher program desecrates nearly 50-year-old federal desegregation rules.

What’s more is that the Justice Department claims to be filing the suit on behalf of pursuing civil rights.

If none of that leaves you saying “oy, vey,” then woe is me.

Unions, liberals, Democrats, people who live in the past and people who want poor children to continue to languish in poor schools need to get a grip on the present and future.

What the judge has been asked to do is weigh the interests of generations-old Justice Department oversight rules regarding segregation against Louisiana’s publicly financed, child-centered, income-based voucher program, called the Louisiana Scholarship Program.

The judge should consider why the program exists in the first place. It’s for children, through no fault of their own, languishing in traditional public schools despite court orders, Justice oversight, higher taxes and increased spending.

Impatient parents became smarter.

For its part, the Justice Department has said it does not want “to end Louisiana’s voucher program.”

Rather, Justice spokeswoman Dena Iverson said, “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.”

Parents and other advocates of education reform and school choice must understand that the operative word is “long-standing.”

As my colleague Seth McLaughlin pointed out in a report Wednesday, the Justice Department lawsuit is based on “a 1975 ruling that found the majority of the state’s black students went to segregated schools until federal courts ordered most schools to integrate. It also found that enrolling students in private schools with public funds interfered with desegregation efforts.”

Will the court even consider the challenges hoisted upon Louisiana in recent years?

After twin hurricanes Katrina and Rita rendered many of Louisiana’s schools useless, charter schools and private schools became the schools of choice for many families. In fact, New Orleans holds the No. 1 spot when it comes to chartering schooling (the District is No. 2).

Vouchers (or scholarships, whichever you prefer) became popular with whites and blacks, and, yes, that popularity has shifted public school demographics — but not as you might think.

A win for the Justice Department in this case will equal a loss for poor children — children whose parents are making the conscientious decision to opt out of underperforming schools.

While the Justice Department claims it’s not trying to end Louisiana’s voucher program, beware that Mr. Obama is no friend of vouchers and scholarship programs (unless they are on his terms).

Thousands of D.C. families ended up empty handed when Mr. Obama defunded the voucher program in the District, where the three-pronged approach — traditional, charter and voucher schooling — has seemingly pleased most families.

If the Louisiana program, which is implemented statewide, is rendered dead by a federal judge, then all that jawing over the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is moot.

What good is freedom if a mother, who cannot otherwise afford it, does not have the freedom to use government money to put her child in the school of her choice?

Parents who receive federally funded housing have freedom.

Poor parents should, too.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

SIMMONS: Louisiana vouchers: Lessons to be learned – Washington Times.

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