Admin drops lawsuit against LA school voucher program

Without fanfare, and to the surprise of many observers, the Obama Justice Department has dropped its lawsuit against Louisiana’s popular school voucher program.  The suit was rather absurdly premised on a violation of ancient desegregation rules, even though minority students (and their grateful parents) account for about 90 percent of the program’s beneficiaries.

As the Weekly Standard relates, the withdrawal of the Administration’s injunction was discovered by a group of parents who wanted to intervene on behalf of Governor Bobby Jindal’s program… only to be told by the judge that there was no longer anything to intervene against.

On Friday, Judge Ivan Lemelle of the U.S. district court of the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled the parents could not intervene in the case because the feds are “no longer seeking injunctive relief at this time.” Lemelle explained that in the intervening months since the Justice Department filed suit, it had made clear both in a supplemental filing and in its opposition to the parent group’s motion to intervene that it was not seeking in its suit to end the voucher program or take away vouchers from students.

Lemelle continued: “The Court reads these two statements as the United States abandoning its previous request that the Court ‘permanently enjoin the State from issuing any future voucher awards to students unless and until it obtains authorization from the federal court overseeing the applicable desegregation case.'”

The Justice Department has not abandoned its efforts to keep poor kids trapped in failing schools, however.  They’re still looking to initiate a “federal review process” for the voucher program.  In a statement celebrating the end of the Administration’s lawsuit, which he described as “absurd,” Governor Jindal warned that the Justice Department was merely shifting tactics, and would now attempt to strangle the program with red tape:

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.

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 Department of Justice???s new position is that it wants bureaucrats in Washington to have the authority to decide where Louisiana children get an education.

The centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s ‘process’ is a requirement that the state may not tell parents, for 45 days, that their child has been awarded a scholarship while the department decides whether to object to the scholarship award.  The obvious purpose of this gag order would be to prevent parents from learning that the Department of Justice might try to take their child???s scholarship away if it decides that the child is the wrong race.

The updated Department of Justice request reeks of federal government intrusion that would put a tremendous burden on the state, along with parents and teachers who want to participate in school choice.

This is not a good time for the Administration that can’t even launch a website to be telling anyone how to educate their children.  In addition to the popularity of Jindal’s voucher program with his constituents, the educational benefits to students, and the possibility of finally reforming some intractably poor schools, there was a study last month that found the program was actually improving racial integration in Louisiana schools.  So why is Team Obama still trying to scuttle the effort?  Loyalty to teachers’ unions, and the desire to inflict political damage on a Republican governor, would seem to be the only logical explanations.  Neither of those factors should be of the slightest interest to the citizens of Louisiana, or the United States for that matter.

It’s possible the Administration will be intimidated out of pursuing its red-tape garrote strategy.  A report at Politico notes that the Justice Department’s interest is currently framed as nothing more than a desire to collect data about the voucher program as it moves forward, although state officials say it still constitutes a “power grab” because the data in question would be difficult to collect.  Congressional Republicans pitched in to put Attorney General Eric Holder on notice that further interference with the Louisiana voucher program would not be taken lightly:

“It???s encouraging that the Obama administration has ended its current attack on school choice in Louisiana,??? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. ???This is a huge victory for so many families and students who the Department of Justice tried to deny the best possible education. But the fight isn???t over. President Obama still believes Washington knows better than Louisiana parents.???

And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said he is ???relieved these children will now have the opportunity to get a good education.???

???But this chance for a better life should never have been in question in the first place. Our children are not statistics. They deserve the opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and violence through a good education. The fact that Mr. Holder would block any child from a good education is bad enough. The fact that he tried to do so based solely on the children???s race is inexcusable.???

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) lauded the DOJ???s move to drop the injunction, but said the full committee ???will continue to monitor this case closely.???

The Justice Department should back out of the Louisiana voucher program completely.  It’s a huge success in every imaginable way.  The only reason for continued federal involvement is the lingering hope that its triumph might be obscured.