Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R.) said the Justice Department (DOJ) "must stand down" from its lawsuit that attempts to block his state’s school voucher program, which allows students to flee failing schools.
On Aug. 24 the DOJ filed a petition in federal court to obtain a permanent injunction against the Louisiana Scholarship Program, blocking access to vouchers in districts that are under desegregation orders beginning in 2014 unless a judge approves them.
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Jindal called the lawsuit "cynical, immoral, and hypocritical."
"Nearly 50 years to the day of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, the Department of Justice under the Obama administration filed what I think is a despicable lawsuit," he said at the National Press Club on Wednesday. "They went to federal court in Louisiana to try to trap thousands of children in failing schools."
"The president and the Attorney General need to drop this lawsuit," Jindal said. "At the very least they need to come to Louisiana and meet face to face with these moms and dads and their kids and explain to them why the Obama administration, why this Department of Justice don’t think that these children deserve a great education."
The program, which began in 2008, gives scholarships to students who are enrolled in failing schools, rated by the state as "C," "D," or "F." Eight thousand students have received vouchers in the current school year, and over 93 percent of parents who have participated say they are satisfied with their child’s new school, according to Jindal’s office.
The DOJ claims that vouchers are "impeding desegregation."
"In several districts operating under desegregation orders, the State’s issuance of vouchers increased the racial identifiability of schools because the vouchers recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher," the motion said, which was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Jindal contends that the program is already operating under laws that ban racial discrimination.
"The scholarships are completely race blind," he said. "It’s done by lottery. It’s one of the reasons over 90 percent of the kids are actually minorities."
"This is a question of equality of opportunity," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R.), who joined Jindal at the press conference. Bush, who established education reforms in Florida, applauded Jindal for trying to move to a "child-centered" system.
"I’ve seen the future," Bush said. "And what happens is if you have robust accountability, if you empower parents with choices that otherwise they would not have, all schools get better."
"The schools that parents choose certainly get better, every poll that’s done shows parents are satisfied when they are empowered to make that choice," he said. "And the schools in the public system get better as well."
According to a recent poll, nearly twice as many voters oppose the DOJ’s lawsuit.
Forty-nine percent said they are against the DOJ’s decision to sue the state, while only 27 percent are in favor.
Furthermore, 80 percent of likely voters said that every parent in America should have the same opportunity as President and First Lady Obama to choose schools that work best for their kids.
"There’s not a chance the president or the attorney general would send their kids to that F school or that D school," Jindal said. "It’s wrong to tell these parents they have to."
Kara Kerwin, the vice president of external affairs for the Center for Education Reform, told the Washington Free Beacon that school choice is about civil rights.
"Parents need to have the freedom to choose," she said. "Education truly is the greatest equalizer and this issue is the civil rights issue of our time, yet we are challenging a parent’s right to make choices for their children."
"It’s completely politically driven," Kerwin said of the DOJ lawsuit. "We know that choice works. The more choices that students have available to them, the better they improve."
Kerwin said even in the nation’s capital schools are improving due to greater choice.
"Here in D.C. with the very small opportunity scholarship program and the robust charter school movement we have seen all schools improve," she said. "All schools. Across the board."
"It’s not great, we’re still not there, our D.C. public schools are still not where they should be, but we’re seeing them make improvements because they need to compete to win parents’ approval," Kerwin said. "It’s for their own survival."
"It should be about choice and competition," she added. "We know it works. We should be so sick and tired of putting up with the status quo. We need to be accelerating the pace of these reforms."
Jindal said the voucher program has been under attack since it was signed into law, with opponents previously taking the program to the state supreme court.
"So now they’re trying to fight us in federal court," he said. "The reality is they continue to fight, we’re not going away. I think their hope is that we’ll go away quietly. We’re not going away quietly. This is too important."
"This isn’t the first time they’ve tried to fight the program," Jindal said. "We’re still here. The program is still here. We’ll still be here after this lawsuit."