The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Louisiana to stop a voucher program spending millions in taxpayer funds to send low-income students to private and religious schools, saying that the vouchers have impeded long-standing desegregation orders in many of the state’s school districts.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) joined the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) in a lawsuit last year challenging the legality of the voucher plan, which was pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and GOP lawmakers. The LSBA lawsuit ultimately prevailed when the state’s Supreme Court found the funding mechanism to be unconstitutional but the GOP-led legislature is attempting to keep the program alive through alternative funding sources.
LSBA has closely monitored desegregation litigation in Louisiana for many years. LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard noted that many school boards have spent millions of dollars in order to attain unitary status and freedom from federal oversight due to past discriminatory practices—and this latest round of legal problems with the Louisiana voucher program only exacerbates the issues raised in the recent state Supreme Court ruling that struck down the law and highlighted the program’s illegal funding schemes.
“The fact that the U.S. Department of Justice has to get involved at this point again punches holes in the flawed legislation,” Richard said. “It is irresponsible that state government in Louisiana, with all of the legal resources available, would move forward with this effort fully knowing that many school districts continue to be under federal desegregation orders – basically ignoring federal law.”
Proponents for the voucher plan have decried the federal government’s move and argued that the vouchers help low-income students “escape failing schools.” However, LSBA and other education groups have countered that the plan actually allows kindergarteners zoned for high-achieving public schools—those graded A or B—to receive vouchers as well.
Thirty-four school districts, of which 22 send students to private schools using voucher funds, would be subject to the Justice Department’s ruling, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune.