Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Vouchers v. Desegregation: U.S. Department of Justice Seeks to Block Vouchers in Desegregating Districts
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spearheaded the expansion of the state’s voucher program from New Orleans to the entire state this year. He did not, however, bother to assess how the program might affect student assignment and enrollment in districts that are still operating under court orders to desegregate. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a motion in district court to block the application of the voucher program to those districts. The motion argues that students in at least 22 districts that are still under desegregation orders have received vouchers “without authorization from the appropriate federal court frustrates . . . .” Those vouchers “imped[e] the desegregation process in school districts operating under federal desegregation orders.”
Gov. Jindal responded on Meet the Press, stating
We’ve got a scholarship program. One hundred percent of the kids are low-income. One hundred percent of the kids are in failing schools—C, D, or F schools. Ninety percent of the kids are minorities. Eight thousand of those parents have chosen to take these dollars and send these kids to better schools, to other schools where they can get a better education, where it’s a better fit for their children. Now the Department of Justice, using the same rules that were there to prevent discrimination against minority children, is going after some of these parents and some of these kids and saying, ‘We don’t know that we want to allow you to make this choice. We want you to go to a federal judge.’
School choice advocates are also lambasting DOJ and the role this would play in impeding choice. They seem to ignore, however, that it would be impossible to enforce desegregation orders if districts and states were free to create exit options and exceptions that would undermine desegregation. In fact, various creative exit options, albeit race-neutral on their face, were a major stumbling block to the initial creation of integrated schools in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Or, choice advocates assume that the voucher program will have no negative effect on the demographics of these school districts. Even if their assumption proves to be correct, it has always been standard procedure to verify the effect of new policies on student assignments in desegregating districts, rather than wait until after the fact when the damage is already done. While the state and districts are largely free to assign students, however, they see fit in “unitary” districts, there are constitutional constraints on other districts for good reason.
Gov. Jindal's full interview is here.