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DOJ Not Wavering in La. School Voucher Case

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 26, 2013 2:58 PM

A Louisiana federal court heard oral arguments in the case for enjoining the state's school voucher program on Friday, despite rumors that the DOJ had given up the case.

Last week, various media sources reported the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had dropped its desegregation suit against the state of Louisiana's voucher program, fueled by Governor Bobby Jindal's statements that the DOJ had "abandoned" its suit, NOLA.com reports.

The confusion comes from a November 18 court order confirming the government's dropped request to permanently enjoin the state's voucher program, seeking instead to monitor and share information through the court.

Courthouse Rocks: Injunction Junction

There is sufficient reason to be confused about this change in tack -- even if you aren't politically motivated to make hay out of the DOJ's change in tune. Back in September, when the case was first building up steam, the DOJ was seeking injunctive relief.

And injunctive relief seemed like a good option given that the issue was decades of non-compliance with federal desegregation orders.

Buried in a ruling from Judge Ivan Lemelle last week, the district court ratified the government's change in tune stating that the DOJ was "abandoning" its request to enjoin the state voucher program. Instead the issue up for oral arguments on Monday dealt solely with the less invasive request that the court "facilitate compliance and the timely sharing of school voucher program data."

This statement is likely what caused Gov. Jindal to stand on this statement as a victory for his state, but the case is far from over.

School Voucher Program Data

What the DOJ now really wants is the school voucher data it had asked for to ensure that the vouchers are not a portal for "white flight" from schools under the desegregation order.

The DOJ had estimated that two-thirds of the 34 schools still struggling to comply with the federal desegregation order have participated in the voucher program, so the federal government would like more than a nod that the state isn't actively thwarting the goal of integrating those schools.

After oral arguments on Friday, Judge Lemelle granted the DOJ's request (in part) to see the state's data. Judge Lemelle also ordered the DOJ to respond to the State of Louisiana's expert reports (presumably regarding the school's compliance) by December 23.

And assuming the DOJ and Louisiana authorities are willing to make nice before Christmas, they will both submit proposals to the court for modifying the existing process for sharing data by January 7, 2014.

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