The White House has taken Louisiana’s poorest schoolchildren and crushed their hopes for a better future. Citing rules meant to end racism, the Justice Department last week asked a federal judge in New Orleans to slam shut the door on minority kids, ensuring they remain trapped in failing schools.
In 2008, Louisiana set up a scholarship program giving any student from a low-income family a chance to attend a private school that promises a better education. It’s a color-blind system, but the beneficiaries are overwhelmingly minority. The Justice Department insists that families in 34 of Louisiana’s worst school systems must never have a chance to take advantage of the program. Those school systems remain under desegregation orders left over from the 1970s, and the racial bean-counters in the Obama administration argue that school choice impedes the “desegregation process.”
Celilia Primary School in St. Martin Parish, for example, lost six black students to the program. Administration officials cited this as proof that vouchers were “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school.” The administration’s alternative is to deny these black boys and girls a chance to attend a school that will provide them with a better education — in the name of fighting racism.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is committed to keeping the scholarships alive. Calling the administration’s race-baiting “shameful,” he vows to fight the Justice Department in court. “We will not sit by while folks in Washington, D.C. try to tell Louisiana parents that they are not able to attend the school of their choice,” says Mr. Jindal. “Make no mistake — this motion is a threat to the children in our state who only get one chance to grow up and deserve the opportunity to get the best education so they can pursue their dreams.”
The real issue for the White House is not desegregation but union politics. School choice is about as popular with teachers’ unions as crosses are at a convention of vampires. Big Labor only cares about maintaining the guarantee of lifetime employment without accountability based on performance. Nothing says “failure” more loudly than a bunch of students packing their book bags to head elsewhere. That’s why union bosses are moving quickly to block school choice.
The Louisiana Association of Educators has gone so far as to threaten lawsuits against private and parochial schools that accepted voucher payments from the state. In April, the head of the Louisiana’s largest teacher’s union, Joyce Haynes, denounced the scholarship program. “There isn’t anything fair about using something like that only against the public schools,” she told a local television station, “and then taking our children from us, and sending us where we don’t know what they’re getting.”
Children aren’t the property of the state, as Ms. Haynes suggests. Schools exist to serve the needs of students, not what’s best for the unions or school districts. Kids from wealthy families already have the freedom to move to a private school, it hardly serves “civil rights” to actively deny the same option to poor families.
That’s what makes it so disappointing that the White House would intervene while playing the race card. President Obama should put aside politics for once and order his attorney general to stand down, letting Louisiana’s poorest children have their shot at a better future.