Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is inviting President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to check out his state’s school voucher program firsthand, saying a visit would make them reconsider the administration’s lawsuit against the program.
The Department of Justice filed the lawsuit seeking to bar Louisiana from awarding future vouchers to students who otherwise would attend public schools. It argues the vouchers can impede federal desegregation orders put in place in the 1970s. However, of the 34 districts under orders, integration has actually increased because of the voucher program.
Originally an initiative only available to New Orleans residents, the Louisiana Scholarship Program expanded statewide in 2012. Qualifying families can use their vouchers to enroll in any of 117 participating private schools.
“The Louisiana Scholarship Program empowers low-income families with the same opportunity as more affluent parents already have—the financial resources to send their child to the school of their choice,” the state’s Department of Education website said.
That choice can be crucial. Of the voucher students who were previously enrolled in a public school, 14 percent came from a C-rated school, 69 percent from a D-rated school, and 17 percent from a F-rated school.
According to the Alliance for School Choice, more than 245,000 students around the country attended the private school of their choice last year using some form of public subsidy. Nearly 5,000 of those students were in Louisiana. The rest are from 15 other states plus Washington, D.C., all of which have some form of voucher or tax-credit program.
The federal desegregation orders originated in the 1970s with the intent of encouraging racial integration. Considering that 90 precent of Louisiana’s voucher recipients last year were minorities, it would seem that the Justice Department might have a legitimate concern.
But initial data analysis indicates that the voucher program actually improved integration in both sending and receiving schools: The minority students are leaving behind public schools where their race is overrepresented and entering private schools where their race is underrepresented. In both cases, it seems the voucher program actually promotes what the federal desegregation orders encourage.
“We make no apologies for giving parents the option to determine the best educational path for their children,” Jindal told Politico. “President Obama has the means to send his children to the school of his choice. Parents in Louisiana should have the same opportunity.”