DOJ Changes Strategy in Fight Against Louisiana School Voucher Program

Jindal: New tactic could kill program through ‘red tape’

Gov. Bobby Jindal / AP
November 19, 2013

The Justice Department has changed its strategy against the Louisiana Scholarship program, abandoning its request for a permanent injunction in favor of a "process of review," a move Gov. Bobby Jindal (R.) warns could regulate the program out of existence.

A ruling in the U.S. district court of the Eastern District of Louisiana on Friday said the DOJ was "abandoning its previous request" that would have forced all future vouchers to be approved by a federal judge.

Instead, the Obama administration wants the state to undergo a lengthy review process and provide information on every voucher application prior to awarding them. The DOJ asked the court to "facilitate compliance" of Louisiana to provide "the timely sharing of school voucher program data."

"We are pleased that the Obama Administration has given up its attempt to end the Louisiana Scholarship Program with this absurd lawsuit," Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement on Monday. "It is great the Department of Justice has realized, at least for the time being, it has no authority to end equal opportunity of education for Louisiana children."

"However, we will continue to fight, at every step, the Department of Justice’s new Washington strategy to red tape and regulate the program to death," he said.

That "process," which was laid out in a memo filed by the DOJ on Friday, would require the state to provide information on all student applicants for vouchers 45 days before any are awarded, as well as information of students already enrolled in the program.

The data would include name, race, student I.D. number, address, and the public school district the student would be fleeing. The state would also have to explain why any vouchers were denied, and if there was any preference for a particular voucher award.

The DOJ also requests information on all districts under a desegregation order, and "an analysis of the voucher enrollments … with respect to their impact on school desegregation."

If the government is not satisfied with the data provided and believed a voucher would disrupt the racial balance of a school, they could then request "the assistance" of the court to try to stop individual parent applications.

"The Department of Justice’s new position is that it wants bureaucrats in Washington to have the authority to decide where Louisiana children get an education," Jindal said.

"The obvious purpose of this gag order would be to prevent parents from learning that the Department of Justice might try to take their child’s scholarship away if it decides that the child is the wrong race," he said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) issued a statement on Tuesday in support of the Louisiana Scholarship Program.

"Instead of trying to shut down expanded education opportunities, we should be working together to give more low-income children new hope that they can receive a high-quality education and achieve the American Dream," said Boehner.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus pledged in a statement that the Republican party will continue to stand up for expanding school choice.

"Sadly, we can expect Democrats’ attacks on school choice to continue, whether in the form of lawsuits or intrusive federal regulation," said Priebus. "School choice is about ensuring fairness and equal opportunity, so when the federal government tries to rob children of a bright future, Republicans will always stand on the side of families and students."

The DOJ first sued Louisiana in August, claiming the scholarship program "impedes desegregation." Parents with children participating in the program tried to intervene as defendants in the case in September. They wanted to testify about the benefits of the new private schools they are now able to attend.

Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled against the parents on Friday, citing the DOJ’s abandonment of a permanent injunction against the program.

"The Court does not find the need at this time to determine whether the interest in continuing receipt of vouchers would satisfy the requirements of either intervention of right or permissive intervention, since the United States is no longer seeking injunctive relief at this time," Lemelle wrote.

"The only remaining issues in the case, at this time, effect the sharing of information between the United States and the State of Louisiana," the ruling said.

Mitzi Dillon, a parent who was trying to intervene in the case, told the Washington Free Beacon last week that her children, Titus and Taylor, are excelling in the scholarship program.

"They’re doing great academically, we get updates daily almost," she said. Her kids attend Northlake Christian School in St. Tammany Parish.

"They love it. They absolutely love it," Dillon said. "Their main concern is are we going to get to go here next year. They dread having to go back, they know what schools they had to go to."

Dillon said she wanted the opportunity to appear in court to demonstrate what other parents could miss out on if vouchers are blocked.

"We need to be heard," she said. "Regardless of if you’re involved in this or not, parents need to wake up and realize that the government is trying to take control of the well-being of your kids."

Jindal on Sunday said the DOJ’s proposed process would place a "tremendous burden on the state, and in turn, on parents who want to take their children out of a failing school."

"The federal government’s message to parents is to ‘lawyer up,’ if they want a better education for their children," he said in a statement.

"It’s clear that the Obama administration literally wants to handpick schools for children," Jindal added. "This is a gross overreach of the federal government."

A hearing is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 22.

Post updated at 1:55