Judge Allows Federal Oversight of Louisiana Voucher Program

Court rules in favor of Justice Department

November 22, 2013

A federal judge ruled against Louisiana in a case against the state’s scholarship program on Friday, requiring federal oversight for the program that allows children to escape failing schools.

The ruling may lead to a lengthy review process preferred by the Justice Department (DOJ), which Gov. Bobby Jindal (R.) says could regulate the program to death.

The decision was the latest in a legal battle between the Obama administration and the state, dating back to August. The DOJ first requested a permanent injunction on the basis that the program "impedes desegregation" wanting future vouchers to be handed out by a federal judge.

The government abandoned that request earlier this week, opting instead to seek federal supervision over the program.

Judge Ivan Lemelle sided with the DOJ on Friday, saying "the Court has an obligation [...] to take reasonable steps in the process whereby the voucher program is not being used to promote segregation."

Lemelle said the two parties would have 60 days to come up with a reporting process for a conference on Jan. 22.

Judge Lemelle added that whatever the sides come up with, it cannot be "so arduous it scuttles the voucher program," according to the Times Picayune. The judge said he did not want to disrupt the program, pointing to a state analysis that found that the program actually improves desegregation efforts.

"We’re pleased the Judge acknowledged that data provided by the state show the program does not have a negative impact on desegregation," Jindal said in a statement. "We are also glad the Judge made clear he does not want to disrupt the scholarship program. The Judge has indicated he wants both parties to determine a process that does not allow the scholarship program to send state aid to segregated private schools."

"The state already ensures that the scholarship program does not provide state funds to segregated private schools," he said.

The DOJ’s process 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 leaving.

If the government is not satisfied with the data provided and believes 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.

Jon Riches, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute representing parents who tried to intervene in the case, told the Washington Free Beacon that the DOJ’s plan would harm the scholarship program.

"It’s clearly a burden," he said. "It’s going to be impossible for the state to provide all the information."

"Whatever [the DOJ’s] view is, if they think the voucher prevented racial integration then they could go after individual vouchers," Riches said.

"The fact that the DOJ is still persisting on seeking the court’s assistance in going after individual vouchers is a threat to the voucher program," he said.

Jindal was adamant about not letting the administration interfere with individual cases.

"We will draw a hard line against allowing the federal government to control the scholarship program and handpick schools for Louisiana’s children," he said.

"No parent should have to get the president's permission—no matter which party that president is in—just to put their kid in the school of their choice."