NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Both the state and Justice Department said they were pleased with a judge’s order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state’s private school tuition program.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said the order is a victory for Louisiana students and parents because it won’t impede the voucher program and didn’t grant Justice officials “veto power” over vouchers. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement issued by the Justice Department, said the order rejected state resistance to providing basic information about how the voucher program will affect school desegregation.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle’s order, released Tuesday, requires that the state provide federal officials with lists of voucher applicants and information including whether they were approved for private-school funding and which school they will attend. The lists will have to be provided 10 days before the students’ families are notified of their voucher eligibility.
Lemelle’s order also calls for a series of reports at various times of the year. They would have to include a variety of data on enrollment and racial breakdowns at all public schools, similar data on private schools participating in the voucher program and reasons why students found ineligible are rejected.
Jindal won legislative approval of the statewide voucher program in 2012. It provides taxpayer-funded private school tuition to some low- and moderate-income families whose children would otherwise go to a low-performing public school.
Arguments before and after the program was approved had largely centered on the funding and effectiveness of voucher schools, and whether it hurt public schools by diverting money to private institutions. Last year, the Justice Department filed a motion in the 1971 lawsuit of Brumfield v. Dodd that resulted in a 1975 desegregation order governing state spending on public schools.
Justice officials first sought to block issuing future vouchers in districts under desegregation orders unless the state first obtained permission from the appropriate federal court. Justice attorneys later backed away from seeking an injunction but have continued to seek information.
The Jindal administration and state Education Superintendent John White have been highly critical of the Justice Department’s efforts. Jindal has cast them as an effort by President Barack Obama’s administration to deny low-income students a chance to attend better schools. White has said gathering and reporting some of the information Justice officials sought would be disruptive to the voucher program.
“The order did not grant the request by President Obama’s Department of Justice for veto power over individual scholarship awards as the Justice Department had initially demanded,” a Tuesday night statement from Jindal’s office said.
“Most importantly, the information sharing process ordered by the Judge should not impede the Scholarship Program,” the statement added.
Holder also applauded the ruling.
“We welcome the court’s order as it rejects the state’s bid to resist providing even the most basic information about how Louisiana’s voucher program will affect school desegregation efforts,” Holder said in an emailed statement. “This ruling ought to resolve, once and for all, the unnecessary dispute initiated by the state’s refusal to provide data.”