Why would the federal Department of Justice cite the Civil Rights Act and the specter of segregation to try and block a school choice program where more than nine in 10 participants come from racial minority groups? Or use the Americans with Disabilities Act to claim another school voucher program discriminates against individuals with disabilities, without so much as a single complaint from a student or parent to prove their case?
Yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration’s Justice Department is doing—taking actions designed to stifle, and even block outright, programs that give children and parents more educational choices. Ironically enough, the DOJ even cited civil rights laws in attempting to deny parents the opportunity to move their children from failing schools—one of the foremost civil rights challenges of our time.
Legal arguments aside, the basic problem is this: Eric Holder, the Obama administration, and vast swathes of the left have forgotten the basic premise of education policy: It’s all about the children.
Or at least it should be. In both our states, we’ve maintained a relentless focus on making sure that children and parents have the best educational options they choose regardless of income. That’s why we support our states’ school choice initiatives.
In Wisconsin, more than 25,000 students took advantage of our choice initiative this past school year to study at a school of their choosing.
In Louisiana, we will offer spots to nearly 9,000 students in private school choice programs this coming academic year, roughly 7,000 more students than in 2011-12. Thirteen thousand applied this year, which shows how many parents in failing schools want an opportunity to explore other options for their children. They’re seeking out these opportunities because school choice works: More than nine in 10 parents are satisfied with the program—and they’re satisfied with their children’s academic progress because of it.
But in both states, Holder and the Justice Department have built roadblocks, undermining our efforts by attempting to sow dissension where none existed. The department’s attempted enforcement actions in Wisconsin violate past Supreme Court precedent and Education Department policy. In Louisiana, the Justice Department resurrected a nearly 40-year old de-segregation case, initially asking a federal court to block the choice program entirely.
The blind obeisance of President Obama and Attorney General Holder to the educational-industrial complex might seem like a game to federal bureaucrats in far-away Washington. But to a struggling single mother in inner-city Milwaukee, or a precocious young child in New Orleans, access to a good school means the difference between whether a child can live up to her full skills and potential—or will fall through the cracks to become another statistic.
It is our understanding the president and attorney general send their children to private schools. There is nothing wrong with doing that, just as there is nothing wrong with other children in families with less means having the same option and opportunities to learn.
And that’s really what this debate is about. It’s about putting parents and children ahead of government special interests. It’s about ensuring that all children have an opportunity to grow and learn—not those whose parents can afford to leave failing schools. And it’s about empowering parents to pick the school and method of learning that can best meet their child’s needs.
We hope that President Obama and Attorney General Holder will work with us to expand educational opportunities to students—particularly students in failing schools who desperately need other options. America’s future depends on it.
By Govs. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and Scott Walker (R-WI). This piece originally appeared at POLITICO.