Monday, February 10, 2014

Louisiana Holds Back Voucher Info

In January, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, “The Department of Justice proposal reeks of federal government intrusion and proves the people in Washington running our federal government are more interested in skin color than they are in education.”

Jindal has been ranting quotably at the federal government since August.

Thirty-four of the state’s 64 school districts are still under federal desegregation orders from the 1975 case of Brumfield v. DoddThe court ordered Louisiana not to support private schools in ways that furthered racial segregation in those districts.

In August, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to enforce the court’s commands.  It sued to bar tuition vouchers for students attending public schools in the targeted districts, unless the state got prior approval from the court. The suit is U.S. v. Dodd.

The State of Louisiana and a child’s family both participate in deciding which voucher recipient goes to which school. Families who want vouchers submit a list of desired schools, in order of preference, to the state. The state matches the applicants with available seats.

In November, the DOJ modified its suit. It asked only to monitor the voucher awards.

It asked that the state notify the DOJ of its awards 45 days before it told the recipient families. It asked the state to report each child’s name, race, address, and the public school district he or she would leave. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle approved. He gave the DOJ and the state 60 days to agree on a reporting process, one not “so arduous it scuttles the voucher program.”

At the end of December, the DOJ filed an expert report saying that voucher pupils are usually assigned to schools where their own race makes up more than 90% of the student body.

In early January, well before the 60 days had passed, the parties had filed separate, incompatible proposals.

The DOJ asked for the 45 day notice and the chance to block school assignments that increased segregation. It wanted the state each autumn to send the DOJ final enrollment counts and analyses of the vouchers’ impact on racial balance in public and private schools.

Louisiana’s lawyers asked Judge Lemelle to close the case of Brumfield v. Dodd, and let the state fund private schools as it chose.

In case he refused, they asked him to reject entirely the DOJ’s plan to monitor the voucher awards. If he wouldn’t do that, they asked his permission to supply information to the DOJ only after the school year had begun. If the judge agreed, the DOJ could not prevent school assignments that promoted segregation.

Highly Critical Report

In December, Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera slammed the voucher program, because it didn’t make participating private schools spend public money properly or educate their voucher students.

Purpera had a hard time getting information. Auditors could follow the tax-raised funds in only three of 118 schools, because the others did not record their voucher income separately. Of those three, one overcharged the state by more than $300,000.

Five schools sought vouchers for youngsters whose families earned too much for the program. Four more schools didn’t know their voucher students’ family incomes. Ten schools didn’t have correct home addresses for pupils.

The private schools must give voucher recipients, but not other children, the same tests as public school students. If the state grades private schools by those scores, as it grades public schools, more than 40% of voucher students attend schools with grades of D or F.

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