DOJ puts diversity above education

Published on Monday, 2 September 2013 20:30 - Written by

Next door in Louisiana, one of the most ambitious education reform efforts is underway. But it’s in danger of being torpedoed by misguided efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice, which could end up trapping poor and minority students in failing schools.

“The U.S. Justice Department is suing Louisiana in New Orleans federal court to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in public school systems that are under federal desegregation orders,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported last week. “The first year of private school vouchers ‘impeded the desegregation process,’ the federal government says.”

The first hearing on the case is set for Sept. 19.

“The statewide voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students in public schools graded C, D or F attend private schools at taxpayer expense,” the newspaper explains. “This year, 22 of the 34 systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers. Last year, at least 570 students were affected; the program has expanded since then.”

The Justice Department says the program threatens the racial diversity of existing public schools. It claims there is “irrefutable evidence” that vouchers have “interfered with” the enforcement of the federal desegregation order.

What is that evidence? Apparently, last year five white students at Independence Elementary School left the school, which “reinforced the racial identity of the school as a black school.”

That’s out of nearly 150 white students in a school of 500 students. But whether it’s five students or 50 students, the Justice Department’s goals are clear. Diversity is far more important than education. Independence Elementary School performs below even the dismal state average.

It’s not just “white flight” the DOJ is claiming; the department’s suit also cites Cecilia Primary School, which lost some black students when the vouchers became available. That served to “reinforce[ed] the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.”

The impact of vouchers on the racial makeup of a school is negligible — a number of studies show that.

But racial makeup is far from the most important thing here. Education is what the federal government and the state should be most concerned with.

“School choice programs benefit most those who previously had the fewest educational options, particularly low-income families,” the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick points out. “Minority groups that are disproportionately low-income therefore benefit disproportionately from school choice. The Department of Justice’s lawsuit will hurt the very students it is intended to help.”

There’s one more lesson to take away from what’s happening next door in Louisiana (and what could serve as a model for Texas). It’s that we’ve let the federal government have to big of a say in education.

It’s not simply a 10th Amendment issue, though to be sure, the Constitution strongly implies that education is a state-level matter. It’s also an issue of effectiveness. The more decisions we can make locally, the better. That’s because no one cares about our children more than we do — certainly not bureaucrats in Washington.

That’s why we’re watching what happens in Louisiana closely.