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Fed. District Court to Hear Louisiana School Voucher Suit

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 17, 2013 12:59 PM

A DOJ suit to block Louisiana's private school voucher program will be heard in a New Orleans federal court in mid-September, possibly answering whether the state is thwarting desegregation by issuing these vouchers.

The Times-Picayune reports that the voucher system, officially known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, extended the option for low-income students in certain school systems to go to private school on the taxpayer's dime. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) suit claims that this system is essentially undermining federal desegregation orders by allowing white children to transfer to public schools.

School vouchers remain a conservative answer to the persistence of the American public school system, but is it contributing to racial imbalance?

Louisiana School Voucher Program

According to the Times-Picayune, the Louisiana voucher program started in the Big Easy in 2008 and is enjoying its second year statewide with the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

In a motion to delay the upcoming hearing filed in early September, the defendants urged the district court to hold off on evaluating the program until November to allow Louisiana to gather data on the current year's students.

Governor Bobby Jindal defended the state voucher program, reports the Times-Picayune, stating that the vouchers provided "low-income black children more options" and promoted civil rights in education.

This may seem disingenuous in light of the fact that the state is host to dozens of districts who are under federal orders to desegregate, 34 of which have yet to get the "unitary status" verification from the courts.

The DOJ's petition puts a finer point on this: almost two thirds of these schools ordered to desegregate have had students receive private school vouchers, and the students who used the vouchers -- read: white students -- brought the schools farther from diversity, not closer.

Seeking a School Voucher Injunction

While granting an injunction to stop a program as large as this demands some compelling reasons, the DOJ has a few chambered.

First, the Supremacy Clause doesn't really allow for much wiggle room in terms of cooperating with federal desegregation orders, and the Fifth Circuit has historically disapproved of state or private entities whose efforts -- well intentioned or not -- frustrate these orders.

In addition, the DOJ argues that by allowing the state to allow an alternative route by which school districts inhibit desegregation -- even if indirectly -- the progress made by these orders will be lost.

This is no small matter for the district court, and the issue may well end up in front of the Fifth Circuit.

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