January 8, 2014 2:18PM

Holder’s DOJ Wants a Veto over Parents’ Choice of School

Though the U.S. Department of Justice partially backed down on its lawsuit against Louisiana's school choice program in November, yesterday the DOJ filed its proposal to oversee the program. The program provides school vouchers to low-income families with children otherwise assigned to failing government schools. Among many proposed regulations, the DOJ wants the state of Louisiana to give the federal government the following information about each school choice applicant: 

1. Name

2. Student ID number

3. Address

4. Grade

5. Race

6. School applicant attends in current school year, if any

7. Louisiana School Performance Score (letter grade) for school in (6), above, if applicable

8. Public school district of the school in (6), if applicable

9. District public school applicant would be assigned to attend for the upcoming school year if applicant does not receive a voucher

10. Louisiana School Performance Score (letter grade) for school in (9), above

11. Student enrollment in the school in (9), above, for the current school year, by race

12. Public school district for (9), above

13. Student enrollment in the public school district in (12), above, for the current school year, by race

14. Whether applicant is attending a voucher school during the current school year, and if so, the name of the voucher school

15. The list of voucher schools, in order of stated preference, identified on the student’s application form

16. Whether the State determined that the applicant failed to meet the criteria for participation in the voucher program

17. Reason for determination that the applicant failed to meet the criteria for participation in the voucher program, if applicable

18. Reason, if any, for preference in proposed award of voucher (e.g., sibling)

19. School to which the State intends to assign the applicant through the Voucher Program (“proposed voucher school”) 

20. Student enrollment of the proposed voucher school in (19), for the current school year, by race

The state would be required to give all of this information over to the federal government at least 45 days before awarding school vouchers and the federal government would have the authority to veto the award of any voucher. Given that the vast majority of students participating in the program are African-American, the DOJ essentially seeks the power to keep low-income black kids in failing government schools.

The state of Louisiana's counter-filing argued that the DOJ's demands are unreasonable since the state already takes steps to ensure that there is no segregation in private schools. The state declared that it is:

willing to share relevant information in its possession on a schedule that does not disrupt the operation of the Scholarship program, the State will not agree to terms that would cede its sovereign authority over the Scholarship program or the public schools, it will not agree to permit the United States to participate in the administration of the program, and it will not agree to demands for information that the State does not have or schedule changes that would disrupt the Scholarship program.

The state's counterfiling also noted that the DOJ fundamentally misunderstands the school choice program. In item #19 above, the DOJ assumes that the state "assigns" students to a given school. The state corrected that error:

Contrary to the repeated claim made by the United States, the State does not “assign” Scholarship students to participating private schools; rather, Scholarship awards are based on parental choice. [...] 

Families choose which private school students will attend under the Scholarship program. The State’s role in the Scholarship program is limited to three functions: verifying eligibility, conducting a lottery to determine whether the student will receive an award when necessitated by excess demand, and disbursing the student’s scholarship to his or her school on a quarterly basis. The State never imposes a binding assignment and never prohibits a student from attending a school. The only authority that “assigns” a child to a school is the child’s local school district, which gives every student under its jurisdiction a publicschool assignment. Faced with a public school assignment from the school district and a scholarship award from the State, families decide where their students will attend school.

The counter-filing also took the DOJ to task for wanting to restrict parents' choices of schools based on their race:

[The] United States apparently believes that the State should restrict the choices made by families participating in the Scholarship program based on their race and the racial composition of the schools they wish to attend...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal responded harshly to the DOJ's demands:

 “President Obama’s Department of Justice is continuing its attempt to red-tape and regulate the Louisiana Scholarship Program to death.  The Department’s request for a 45-day review period for every scholarship award shows the Justice Department believes bureaucrats in Washington know better than Louisiana parents. 
I am also shocked to learn that the Justice Department is now asking for the state to provide an analysis of the racial composition of our states private schools.  The federal government’s new request is a frightening overreach of the federal government and shows it knows no bounds.
President Obama’s Department of Justice has admitted it cannot prove that Louisiana school choice is violating desegregation efforts, yet it continues to seek the ability to tell a parent their child cannot escape a failing school because their child is not the ‘right’ race.
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.”