If you’ve read much of this blog, then you may have realized that I like discussing the topics of school choice and school vouchers, as you can see from my posts here, here, and here, just to point out a few. I like discussing these topics because everyone has a strong opinion about them, and regardless of what my personal opinion may be, I see both the benefits and the potential harm of school choice and various voucher programs. No child should be left in a failing school regardless of where they live or their parents’ income. Every child deserves a chance to succeed, and there’s no question that not every child is getting that chance in our public schools today. However, as a society, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and no school choice or voucher program is going to capture every student in a failing public school, which leads to an obvious question in my opinion. Why take taxpayer resources out of our public schools and divert those resources to private schools, in light of the fact that the students who do not take advantage of choice or voucher programs, thus being left in failing public schools, are the students who need those resources the most? This ensures that those failing schools will continue to fail, as they not only potentially lose resources (i.e. money), but now they are left with the most needy students. And yet, we still have to come back to the question of why should any child suffer just because their parents have no options.
These are policy arguments, not legal ones, and courts don’t make policy decisions. Policy decisions are left to lawmakers, but when those policy decisions infringe upon constitutional rights, such as the right to attend an desegregated school, courts are asked to get involved. That’s what happened last week when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana asking the court to enjoin the State of Louisiana from awarding vouchers under the state’s recently expanded school voucher program to students attending school in school districts that operate under a federal desegregation order without judicial approval. The DOJ argues that the state’s voucher program during the 2012-2013 school year impeded desegregation efforts in 13 of the state’s 34 school districts currently operating under federal desegregation orders. Data received for the 2013-2014 school year indicates that vouchers will be awarded to students in 22 of these 34 school districts. This, the DOJ argues, impedes the desegregation efforts of those districts, as voucher recipients are often in the racial minority at the public school they attend before receiving the voucher, leading to increased racial identifiability at those schools. As the voucher program grows, as it is slated to do so in the upcoming school year, so too will the segregative impact it will have, so the DOJ argues.
Governor Jindal and other voucher supporters have already attacked the petition in the media, yet this is not the first sign of legal trouble for Jindal’s 2012 education reform legislation. Interestingly enough, this case is assigned to the same judge who ruled last year that certain elements of Jindal’s legislation unconstitutionally impeded a desegregation agreement in effect in Tangipahoa Parish schools. The state’s appeal is pending in that action. In addition, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the voucher program violated the school funding provisions of the state’s constitution by diverting state funds away from public schools. Governor Jindal found additional state funding, outside of that designated for public schools, for the operation of the program.