Anti-Voucher Lawsuit Resurrects Louisiana Desegregation Case
At least 600 Louisiana schoolchildren, and possibly 1,300 more, may be returned to failing public schools from better ones, if a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice is successful.
Louisiana’s school voucher program, which gives private-school scholarships to low-income students attending schools graded C, D, or F, violates desegregation orders from the 1960s and '70s, the DOJ alleges.
More than 90 percent of voucher recipients are minorities, and more than 80 percent are assigned to D- or F-rated schools.
The DOJ hardly has a case, says Richard Komer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm.
The lawsuit, Brumfield v. Dodd, dates from the 1970s, when a parent sued Louisiana and six school districts over a program granting public funds for textbooks and transportation to all Louisiana students, in public or private schools.
Desegregation orders prompted swarms of white families to pull their children from public schools and send them to all-white private schools. Some public schools lost several hundred white students in a single year, Komer said. The lawsuit blamed the book-and-bus program for encouraging “white flight” and impeding desegregation.
In 1975, a federal judge ruled that no state assistance, including textbooks and transportation, could go to private schools shown to engage in racial discrimination. Since 1977, nothing has happened with the case, though it was never closed.
Louisiana’s voucher program requires participating private schools to comply with the order and not discriminate against students based on race.
“There are schools in Louisiana that comply with this court order, and who from the time of the court order in 1975 have continued to receive textbooks and transportation for their private students, because they are in compliance with the court order,” Komer said. “The voucher program mandates that for a private school to receive any students’ vouchers from the state, they have to be in compliance.”
The DOJ has not filed a new lawsuit, but it has revived the old Brumfield case, claiming desegregation has yet to be achieved in at least 22 Louisiana parishes. The scholarship program may hurt the desegregation process, they claim.
Federal officials also argue the state must inspect the racial demographics before allowing students to use the vouchers. Students could leave public schools only if it would reduce racial imbalances.
The 22 parishes are among the 34 still not complying with the desegregation orders—likely because districts still desegregating are eligible for federal money, said Clint Bolick, vice president of litigation at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, which will represent parents in the case.
“Even in the worst-case scenario, the program would continue for a majority of the kids receiving scholarships,” Bolick said.
But it’s unrealistic to expect the state to complete all those inspections before 2014-15, and students in those parishes likely would not receive vouchers.
“That is incredibly perverse. These kids are the intended beneficiaries of the desegregation decrees,” Bolick said.