Judge Lets Parents Fight for Louisiana Vouchers

Judge Lets Parents Fight for Louisiana Vouchers
April 30, 2014

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)

After Louisiana and the U.S. Justice Department both declared victory over a deal in a school voucher lawsuit brought by the Obama administration, a new window has opened: Louisiana parents will be allowed to have their day in court.

The Fifth Circuit court overturned a lower court’s decision that prevented parents from intervening in the lawsuit that could have cost children their chance to attend the school of their parents’ choice.

“The Justice Department has attempted to block doors to the schoolhouse and courthouse,” said Clint Bolick, attorney for the Goldwater Institute, which has been working to intervene on the parents’ behalf, in a statement. “We are grateful that the Fifth Circuit has protected the rights of parents to act in the best interests of their children.”

‘A Great Day for School Choice’
In fall 2013, the DOJ filed a motion in a decades-old desegregation lawsuit, Brumfield v. Dodd, alleging Louisiana’s school voucher program increases racial segregation and was therefore violating court orders from the 1970s.

After legal back-and-forth, the U.S. District Court issued an order decreeing the state must provide racial and other information to the federal department, but the DOJ has only 10 days to review it before the scholarships are awarded and doesn’t have automatic veto power over individual scholarships.

“Today is a great day for school choice and access to an opportunity for a better education for all Louisianians,” Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said in a statement. “I am pleased that the court rejected President Obama’s Justice Department’s attempt to establish a review period where bureaucrats in Washington would be able to reject scholarship awards solely because the child is not the ‘right’ skin color.”

In the statement, Jindal said his administration will “remain vigilant” in case the DOJ attempts to use the information it receives to stymie the voucher program.

Excuse to Target Vouchers
Attorneys at the Goldwater Institute said the DOJ was wrong to intervene in the first place.

“We have argued throughout the course of this thing that the district court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the voucher program through the Brumfield case,” said Goldwater attorney Jon Riches. “Our position is that this doesn’t apply to the voucher program and never has.… The Department of Justice never should have attempted to use a case that has no applicability to the voucher program to stop or get additional information about the voucher program.”

The court order from the Brumfield case stopped Louisiana from providing public assistance to private schools declared as racially segregated, Riches said. Louisiana’s voucher program doesn’t allow private schools to participate unless they are Brumfield-certified, or nondiscriminatory, according to the court orders.

Goldwater hasn’t yet decided on the next step, Riches said, but its attorneys intend to challenge the court’s jurisdiction.

“It’s tragic that they’re going after this program which has been so successful for Louisiana students and their families,” he said.

Image by ceratosaurr.

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)