Republican leaders are jumping into the Louisiana school choice debate.
The Louisiana Scholarship Program, created in New Orleans in 2008 and expanded to the entire state in 2012, would provide vouchers to low-income families to help them transfer their children out of failing public schools and into private ones.
But the program came under fire in August when the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to permanently block the state from awarding vouchers to students in public schools that are under federal desegregation orders, arguing that vouchers would disrupt “much of the progress made toward desegregation.” The Justice Department argues that its goal is not to completely shut down the voucher program, but rather to ensure that the voucher program will not impede with the state’s desegregation orders.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal defended the voucher program in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post where he accused President Obama of setting “the fight for civil rights back decades” by standing in the way of school choice.
Now he’s getting national support for his cause: on Wednesday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott spoke in protest of the Justice Department’s suit at the National Press Club, echoing Jindal’s criticism of the efforts to block the program.
“This move by the Obama administration traps our kids with low expectations and low-quality schools, all in the name of protecting the system that continually fails these students,” Bush said.
House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, along with four other GOP leaders, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about the motivation behind the Justice Department’s lawsuit.
In addition to the Justice Department’s suit, a Louisiana State judge ruled the voucher program unconstitutional last November because it improperly diverts money allocated through Louisiana’s public school funding formula to private schools. He said it unconstitutionally diverts local tax dollars to private schools.” The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed with the state judge’s ruling in May, and Jindal was forced to find $40 million in other public funds for the 2013-2014 school year.
If the Justice Department’s lawsuit is successful, the change would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year.