Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is claiming victory after the Justice Department backed off on a threat to go to court to end the state’s groundbreaking school-voucher program, which has allowed thousands of poor children to attend the state’s best schools.
At the same time, the Republican governor warned that the Obama administration may now attempt to “red tape and regulate the program to death” without resorting to formal legal action, to prevent what the Justice Department says will be the negative impact of the plan on Louisiana’s minority students.
The battle attracted national attention with the administration taking on an education reform that many Republicans in Congress and in the states see as a centerpiece of their drive to introduce competition and choice into the nation’s school systems.
About 7,000 children are participating in Louisiana’s voucher program, which allows them to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend public or private schools.
“We are pleased that the Obama administration has given up its attempt to end the Louisiana Scholarship Program with this absurd lawsuit. It is great the Department of Justice has realized, at least for the time being, it has no authority to end equal opportunity of education for Louisiana children,” Mr. Jindal said in a Monday night statement. “However, we will continue to fight, at every step, the Department of Justice’s new Washington strategy to red-tape and regulate the program to death.”
The news of the Justice Department’s pivot came to light in a backhanded way, when a preliminary ruling by U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on Monday revealed the federal government had dropped its request for an injunction to stop the program. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in New Orleans federal court on a Justice Department request to monitor the program.
House Republicans cheered the news, praising Louisiana’s scholarship program and urging the Justice Department to back down from its push for a federal review process.
“This is a huge victory for so many families and students who the Department of Justice tried to deny the best possible education,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said. “But the fight isn’t over. President Obama still believes Washington knows better than Louisiana parents.”
In September, House Republicans sent a letter to the Justice Department expressing concerns about the federal lawsuit.
“I’m pleased the Obama administration has decided to change course in its efforts to shut down this critical program, which expands education opportunities for Louisiana families and students,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. “Instead of trying to shut down expanded education opportunities, we should be working together to give more low-income children new hope that they can receive a high-quality education and achieve the American Dream.”
Congressional Republicans have fought to establish an extensive school voucher program in the District of Columbia.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in August to stop the Louisiana voucher program because of concerns that the departure of black children from the state’s poor-performing public schools could disrupt the public school system’s racial balance. Critics in Louisiana also fear Mr. Jindal’s plan will divert funding from public schools to private schools participating in the voucher program.
Thirty-four school districts in Louisiana are still subject to a federal government’s desegregation order issued in 1975.
Even though the Justice Department has retreated on its initial effort to block the voucher program, Mr. Jindal says he worries that federal monitoring requirements would place a “tremendous burden on the state, along with parents and teachers who want to participate in school choice.”