Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reconsidering Louisiana's Voucher Program, As the Data Rolls In

As a matter of procedure, the data in Louisiana does not matter.  Districts that have maintained de jure segregated schools and are still under court order to remedy the effects forfeit the right to assign students any way they want, even if their means are race nuetral.  This has been the law for forty years.  This legal principle is irrelevant in most post places because the vast majority of districts have been released from court order.  But in other districts, courts are still there to look over their shoulders because these districts have not fixed the problem, nor proved that they can be trusted.  Thus, as a matter of procedure, I still maintain no sympathy for Louisiana and its claims that it ought be free of second guessing.

Beyond the procedure, however, the facts are the facts, and new ones are coming out.  When complying with court oversight, these desegregating districts should be free to move forward with any legitimate plans that do not negatively effect desegregation.  According to DOJ, Louisiana had previously been less than forthcoming with the data necessary to make this determination.  Now that the data is becoming available, it looks like some of the facts are favorable to Louisiana. According to a study published by Education Next, the voucher program improves racial balance in the vast majority of schools that students are leaving. (See their data to the left).Ednext_XIV_1_egalite_fig01  Rick Hess, a national education commentator, uses these facts to say, in effect, I told you so, and jump on the bandwagon in criticizing and questioning DOJ's motions in this case.

But not so fast.  Taking Ed Next and Hess's facts as true, it does not mean that the program is constitutional in its entirety.  Desegregation orders are against individual school districts, so in those districts where vouchers increase segregation, they would be presumptively unconstitutional if the effect is more than minimal.  In the other districts where racial balance improves racial balance, which is the vast majority, there is no problem and the programs can remain in place.  In other words, how the program performs on the state level is largely irrelevant in terms of individual districts.  Thus, the fallacy of Hess and others' reasoning is to only look at this program, on the averages, at the state level, instead of at the school and district level which is where segregation actually occurs.  But to be clear, I do not have all the facts.  The negative effects could be minimal in all of the school districts or overshadowed by other good things the state and district might be doing in within districts.  Yet we do not know the answers to these things, hence my contention from the start that we should honor the judicial process and keep national politics over vouchers out of it.

Cases, Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink


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