Is Holder Starting To Realize What A Mess The Voucher Suit Is?

Yesterday, an announcement by the Department of Justice appeared to signal “an end” to its lawsuit against the state of Louisiana over the desegregation implications of the latter’s school voucher program. This item appeared at the Washington Post’s site

Under the supervision of a federal court, Louisiana has agreed to supply the Justice Department with data about its controversial school voucher program and to analyze whether the vouchers are re-segregating schools that are under federal orders to achieve a balance between white and black students.

In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik called the agreement a “significant breakthrough” in the standoff between Louisiana and the Justice Department over the voucher program.

Except the Jindal administration seized upon the DOJ’s media initiative and hammered it mercilessly…

Governor Bobby Jindal blasted the U.S. Department of Justice’s P.R. stunt today when the department sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner citing a legal motion that attempts to rebrand the Obama Administration’s legal challenge to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, but continues to seek to impede the scholarship program.

Governor Jindal said that despite the Obama Administration’s claims today that it is backing down from their opposition to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, the U.S. Department of Justice has not with withdrawn its request for an injunction prohibiting the Louisiana Scholarship Program from granting scholarships for next school year unless a federal court first approves parents’ decisions about where they want to send their children to school.

Governor Jindal said, “The Obama Administration’s latest maneuver is nothing more than a P.R. stunt. While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration’s real motive still stands – forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school.

“The Obama Administration’s letter is disingenuous. The administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality, the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist yet. And they know it.

“The federal government is attempting to retreat in name only, but is not backing off its attack on Louisiana parents. The Obama Administration is doubling down on its belief that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. know better than Louisiana parents.

“The only real retreat is to drop the lawsuit entirely and move on from this backwards lawsuit that is trying to deny equal opportunity for Louisiana children.”

Jindal’s rhetoric was perhaps needlessly combative, but it’s clear that DOJ has gone from declaring the voucher program violative of desegregation orders and seeking an injunction stopping its implementation in 22 parishes for the next academic year to seeking…something else. Exactly what that is, at this point, isn’t clear.

The letter to Boehner came in response to a letter the Speaker had sent to Holder suggesting that he drop the suit. The Baton Rouge Advocate covers what was in DOJ’s response

In its letter Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department reiterated it is not opposing the voucher program and is only trying to determine if desegregation orders apply to the program and whether the vouchers are harming desegregation efforts.

“To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana’s school voucher program nor seeking to revoke any vouchers from any students,” the letter stated. “When properly run, state and local voucher programs need not conflict with legal requirements to desegregate schools.”

The letter also added to Boehner and others that, “You should be aware that it is not clear that all of the new schools for which children are receiving vouchers in Louisiana provide opportunities that are better than or even equal to those in their old schools.”

The Justice letter specifically noted the case of New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish that initially had about 300 vouchers approved — ultimately receiving about 100 — and the school had no teachers or classrooms and only showed students educational videos.

The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders.

In court papers, the department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to almost 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.

The department cited the example of an elementary school losing five white students because of the voucher program, reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.

In another example, the lawsuit said a majority-white school in a majority-black district lost six black students because of vouchers, reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school.

What’s at stake here, clearly, is DOJ’s interest in desegregation orders which have no relevance in the 21st century in Louisiana. The fact is that most of the 22 parishes under desegregation orders are no less segregated now than they were when those orders were installed – not because of any racist motive by school boards or politicians, but because the desegregation orders have generally so impeded the proper function of those school systems that anyone who could escape the end product of those systems by fleeing to other systems or private schools, leaving the poor to wallow in what remains.

Which the voucher program seeks to address for those parents and children who want it.

It’s an absurd situation, and the optics of it – the DOJ is suing to keep mostly poor black kids trapped in failed public schools, in places where failed public schools are largely the product of desegregation orders the DOJ helped create, because DOJ thinks the desegregation orders are more important than the freedom to attend the school you think best for you and your child – couldn’t be worse.

To Jindal’s credit, he has worked the politics of the lawsuit to his and Louisiana’s advantage by going on every TV show and op-ed page he can in order to slam the Justice Department. John Maginnis notes, though with a too-dismissive take on the import of the voucher system, the benefit the governor has derived from the suit…

Gov. Bobby Jindal may call the lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s administration against the state’s voucher program “cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more,” but he’s got to love the big guy for it. Had the U.S. Justice Department not intervened, Jindal’s already-embattled scholarship program may have shriveled and faded in years to come, under funding pressure from the Legislature and legal challenges from school boards and teacher unions. Instead, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder snatched it from oblivion with the high-profile lawsuit that the governor is turning into a higher-profile political issue.

That Maginnis piece was written even before the DOJ’s strange pivot to an information-gathering posture. Now it looks obvious that, having created a firestorm on its own estate, Holder and his goons are seeking a way out.

They’ll never admit it, of course, but it’s hard to see the recent developments in the case any other way.

And the lesson for states like Louisiana who find themselves beset by thuggish legal actions from DOJ aimed at derailing policies the Obama administration doesn’t favor is to fight DOJ tooth and nail, and make the biggest political stink possible over the suits.

In Louisiana’s case, the fight could produce real benefits – namely, that there is a real chance the voucher suit could result in a lifting of some or all of the desegregation orders. Their effects at this point are as absurd as the DOJ’s suit to enforce them against voucher parents.

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