The Future of the Louisiana School Voucher Case Simplified

Instead of asking a federal judge to get between school vouchers and families in need, Eric Holder and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) should be in Louisiana getting an education on what justice actually looks like.

After the DOJ suspended its request for the Louisiana school voucher to be enjoined, it appeared the nation’s second-largest school choice program was safe; however, that victory might be temporary. The court allowed that the DOJ may renew its request to stop the program at any time. Tomorrow a federal judge will hear arguments for and against the DOJ’s new request to impose an onerous bureaucratic procedure on the program.

Under the auspices of protecting Louisiana children from the lingering effects of segregation, the DOJ is asking the court to require Louisiana to submit detailed personal information for every child applying for a voucher at least 45 days before any vouchers may be awarded. The DOJ would use that data to determine whether allowing each child to escape a low-performing ZIP Code-assigned school would upset the racial balance of that school. If the balance is compromised, the child could be refused the voucher and with it the chance to go to a school that could better serve his or her needs.

Seven empirical studies show school choice programs move students into less-segregated classrooms. No study found choice increases racial segregation.

And what recourse do those children have when the DOJ tells them their race is the reason they are prohibited by law from having the opportunity to attend a school where they can learn and be successful?

At best, their parents could hire lawyers to challenge the DOJ’s decision; however, paying attorneys’ fees that reach hundreds of dollars per hour for an unknown number of hours might be a challenge for families that have to meet low-income thresholds to qualify for vouchers in the first place.

And if the DOJ’s request is granted, exactly how will stopping the Louisiana voucher program advance the goal of stopping resegregation? In short, it won’t.

Seven empirical studies show school choice programs move students into less-segregated classrooms. No study found choice increases racial segregation. In two recent reports examining the Louisiana school voucher program, one found it improved racial integration in Louisiana schools, and the other found the program had no negative affect on school desegregation in the 34 school districts under a desegregation order.

Initial reports this week were hopeful, suggesting the DOJ completely ended its case against Louisiana’s voucher program; it did not. But if Eric Holder’s department is truly one that pursues justice, it would stop—because putting children’s futures at risk by threatening to take away their opportunity to get a great education would be an injustice to thousands of families. Families like Laquinta and her son, Tyrell (pictured), whose local public schools were failing, overcrowded, and unsafe. Now, they are using the Louisiana voucher program to join a different school, where Laquinta says Tyrell is receiving a “great education.”

Now that’s justice.