A group of parents and advocates threw their support behind the state of Louisiana in its fight to maintain a controversial school voucher program Tuesday.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options, a nonprofit organization that advocates for high-quality education for black children, and the families of five children enrolled in the program submitted a legal intervention to a federal lawsuit against the voucher program.
“We are here to stand with the parents of Louisiana once again to let them know that they are not alone,” said BAEO president Kenneth Campbell. “BAEO will fight to help ensure that our children and the options available to them are protected.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state in August, saying the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which allows students from low-performing schools to attend private school at taxpayer expense, violates desegregation orders in place in certain Louisiana parishes.
Students enrolled in the program receive a voucher, valued at around $8,500, allowing them to attend one of a group of participating private or parochial schools. Students must have previously attended a school rated C, D or F.
The Justice Department’s petition would prevent the state from issuing vouchers to parishes still subject to Civil Rights-era federal desegregation orders — around half of the parishes in Louisiana.
Opponents of the lawsuit said the Justice Department doesn’t understand how the voucher program has affected the racial makeup of Louisiana’s schools.
“These are some of our most vulnerable students that we’re talking about,” said Stephanie Malin, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Federation for Children, a lobbying and advocacy organization that works with BAEO and parents. “Ironically, the Obama administration supports [the Justice Department’s lawsuit]. He’s our first black president. He’s iconic to them.”
Ninety-one percent of the 5,000 students enrolled in the voucher program last year were minorities, and 86 percent were African-American, Malin said.
Jon Riches, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute, which is providing legal counsel for BAEO and the families, said compliance with desegregation orders is built into the law which created the voucher program. He said the state would likely enforce that part of the law, but the issue had never been pressed before the Justice Department lawsuit.
“It’s a little perverse that the Department of Justice would raise the question,” Riches said.
The official intervention came on the same day the Justice
Department announced it received documents important to the case from the state. A Justice Department official said the transfer of the documents could pave a way for an “orderly process for resolving” the dispute.