Students Win in Louisiana: U.S. Department of Justice Loses Case to Shut Down School Choice
A U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Louisiana’s scholarship law, which some worried might have national implications for school choice – is officially dead after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the department yesterday. The opinion in the 2-1 decision called the Department’s tactics “disingenuous” and chastised it for trying to “impos[e] a vast and intrusive reporting regime… without any finding of unconstitutional conduct.”
The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) was enacted in 2008 and allows children from low-income families to use a voucher of around $5,500 – about half of the public school per-pupil expenditure – to attend a private school of their parents’ choice. In order to be eligible for the voucher, students must have a family income below 250 percent of the poverty line and be attending or assigned to a school graded by the state as a C, D, or F on academic achievement (or enrolled in New Orleans’ Recovery School District). The program currently allows over 7,000 low-income students throughout the state to escape the failing public schools to which they have been assigned. ALEC has model policy, the Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act, comparable to the LSP, and 12 other states and the District of Columbia also have similar voucher programs.
The DOJ was attempting to use an old desegregation case to assert jurisdiction over Louisiana’s voucher program by claiming the program increased segregation, even though a study from the University of Arkansas found the program has exact opposite effect. The study, conducted by Anna Egalite and Jonathan Mills, found the student transfers as a result of the voucher program “overwhelmingly improve integration” in the schools the students leave behind, and in the districts the DOJ’s lawsuit names, the integration of both the public schools and the private schools that receive scholarship students has improved.
Perversely, the DOJ’s endeavor under decades-old desegregation law, if successful, would have condemned more African-American children in Louisiana to failing schools, because the vast majority of students receiving vouchers under the program are black. “This is a victory for minority and low-income schoolchildren, not only in Louisiana but around the country,” said Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute in the organization’s press release.