Jin­dal claims vic­tory for schools

Feds re­treat from Louisiana’s fight for its voucher pro­gram

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal is claim­ing vic­tory af­ter the Jus­tice Depart­ment backed off on a threat to go to court to end the state’s ground­break­ing school-voucher pro­gram, which has al­lowed thou­sands of poor chil­dren to at­tend the state’s best schools.

At the same time, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor warned that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion may now at­tempt to “red tape and reg­u­late the pro­gram to death” with­out re­sort­ing to for­mal le­gal ac­tion, to pre­vent what the Jus­tice Depart­ment says will be the neg­a­tive im­pact of the plan on Louisiana’s mi­nor­ity stu­dents.

The bat­tle at­tracted na­tional at­ten­tion with the ad­min­is­tra­tion tak­ing on an ed­u­ca­tion re­form that many Repub­li­cans in Congress and in the states see as a cen­ter­piece of their drive to in­tro­duce com­pe­ti­tion and choice into the na­tion’s school sys­tems.

About 7,000 chil­dren are par­tic­i­pat­ing in Louisiana’s voucher pro­gram, which al­lows them to use tax­payer-funded vouch­ers to at­tend pub­lic or pri­vate schools.

“We are pleased that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has given up its at­tempt to end the Louisiana Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram with this ab­surd law­suit. 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,” Mr. Jin­dal said in a Mon­day night state­ment. “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.”

The news of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s pivot came to light in a back­handed way, when a pre­lim­i­nary rul­ing by U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on Mon­day re­vealed the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had dropped its re­quest for an in­junc­tion to stop the pro­gram. A hear­ing is sched­uled for Fri­day in New Or­leans fed­eral court on a Jus­tice Depart­ment re­quest to mon­i­tor the pro­gram.

House Repub­li­cans cheered the news, prais­ing Louisiana’s schol­ar­ship pro­gram and urg­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to back down from its push for a fed­eral re­view process.

“This is a huge vic­tory for so many fam­i­lies and stu­dents who the Depart­ment of Jus­tice tried to deny the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion,” House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, said. “But the fight isn’t over. Pres­i­dent Obama still be­lieves Wash­ing­ton knows bet­ter than Louisiana par­ents.”

In Septem­ber, House Repub­li­cans sent a let­ter to the Jus­tice Depart­ment ex­press­ing con­cerns about the fed­eral law­suit.

“I’m pleased the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­cided to change course in its ef­forts to shut down this crit­i­cal pro­gram, which ex­pands ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties for Louisiana fam­i­lies and stu­dents,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a state­ment. “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.”

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have fought to es­tab­lish an ex­ten­sive school voucher pro­gram in the Dis­trict of Columbia.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment filed a law­suit in Au­gust to stop the Louisiana voucher pro­gram be­cause of con­cerns that the de­par­ture of black chil­dren from the state’s poor-per­form­ing pub­lic schools could dis­rupt the pub­lic school sys­tem’s racial bal­ance. Crit­ics in Louisiana also fear Mr. Jin­dal’s plan will di­vert fund­ing from pub­lic schools to pri­vate schools par­tic­i­pat­ing in the voucher pro­gram.

Thirty-four school dis­tricts in Louisiana are still sub­ject to a fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­seg­re­ga­tion or­der is­sued in 1975.

Even though the Jus­tice Depart­ment has re­treated on its ini­tial ef­fort to block the voucher pro­gram, Mr. Jin­dal says he wor­ries that fed­eral mon­i­tor­ing re­quire­ments would place a “tremen­dous bur­den on the state, along with par­ents and teach­ers who want to par­tic­i­pate in school choice.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Even with the Jus­tice Depart­ment back­ing away from a chal­lenge to Louisiana’s school voucher pro­gram, Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, a Repub­li­can, fears an ef­fort to “red tape and reg­u­late the pro­gram to death.”

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