Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice asked Judge Ivan Lemelle to issue an injunction preventing the State of Louisiana from providing taxpayer-subsidized school vouchers in 2014 to students residing in any of the thirty-four parishes currently subjected to federal desegregation orders. In simple terms, Governor Bobby Jindal, Superintendent John White, and the Louisiana Department of Education have been completely unable and unwilling to provide the federal government with sufficient evidence that their controversial school voucher program complies with the law. Because Superintendent John White and his team at the Louisiana Department of Education could not or would not provide the federal government with documentation demonstrating their compliance, the Department of Justice was, essentially, forced to go to court. Quoting from the lawsuit (bold mine):

Only after filing multiple motions in this case and receiving an order of this Court (see Record Docs. No. 109-202), did the United States finally receive, in March of 2013, the information and data it requested from the State. After analyzing the data, the United States determined that the State’s voucher awards appeared to impede the desegregation process in 34 schools in 13 districts. On May 17, 2013, the United States sent a letter to the State… requesting that the State cease its practice of awarding vouchers to students attending school districts operating under federal desegregation orders unless and until it receives approval from the presiding federal court. The State has not responded to that letter and, on information and belief of the United States, has already awarded vouchers for the 2013-2014 school year to students attending school districts operating under desegregation orders.

….

To date, the State has awarded vouchers for 2013-2014 to students in 22 of the 34 school districts with pending federal desegregation orders. See supra at notes 3-4 and Exhibit E. Upon information and belief, the State did not seek the approval of the appropriate federal court prior to awarding the vouchers to students in these districts. Further, the State did not contact the parties to the federal desegregation cases prior to awarding vouchers. Upon information and belief of the United States, the State did not evaluate the impact the vouchers would have on the desegregation process in any of the school districts operating under a federal desegregation order.

Governor Jindal and Superintendent White will lose this case, and ultimately, their intransigence, their incompetence, and their willful disregard for transparency and accountability will, once again, cost Louisiana taxpayers.

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Even if you agree with the concept of school vouchers, even if you think that the government should be subsidizing wholly unqualified private schools while disinvesting from our already robust public education system, even if you believe in a system that robs money from our most vulnerable communities in order to prop up a parallel system of church schools, you still must concede, at the very least, that if you’re going to win over us cynics and skeptics, then the program must be completely above board.

A couple of months ago, Zack Kopplin, Ben Simpson, and I spent an afternoon holed up in a conference room at the Louisiana Department of Education’s offices in Downtown Baton Rouge, pouring over some of the records we had formally requested. Among other things, Zack, Ben, and I inspected and reviewed the Brumfield v. Dodd compliance reports for every single voucher school in the State of Louisiana. Considering that these records can only be reviewed in person and have never been digitized, I’d venture to guess that Zack, Ben, and I are the only three people outside of the state or federal government who have ever thoroughly inspected them.

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But before I get into the details, you need to know this: Brumfield v. Dodd was a district court case that, in practical terms, requires every private school in the state to certify that it does not discriminate on the basis of race.  Quoting from the Times-Picayune:

(Superintendent) White also pointed out that the schools in the voucher program must comply with the terms of 1975 court case, Brumfield v. Dodd, that prohibits the state from giving public money to private schools that uphold segregation or discrimination.

The records that Zack, Ben, and I reviewed will likely be at the center of Governor Jindal’s and Superintendent White’s response to the Department of Justice’s lawsuit. If they intend on proving to the court that their voucher program does not improperly interfere with desegregation orders, then they will rely heavily on these reports.

But unfortunately for Governor Jindal and Superintendent White, these reports, in their totality, only reinforce the Department of Education’s complete lack of oversight; they forcefully demonstrate Governor Jindal and Superintendent White’s recklessness and wanton disregard for effective quality controls. To be sure, the reports, by their very nature, do not establish purposeful racial discrimination, but several schools (perhaps unwittingly) disclose other discriminatory policies, reserving their right to expel gay and lesbian students and openly acknowledging that they charge more in tuition for students who aren’t members of their sponsoring church. (Even though these records can only be inspected in person, we were smart enough to take pictures. And as much as I’d like to share those right now,

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I think it’d be far more productive, for all of us, if Superintendent White and Governor Jindal were, for the first time, forced to actually review the records of all of the schools in the program. They may learn something).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Governor Jindal and Superintendent White have already expressed outrage over this lawsuit, suggesting, incredulously, that the Department of Justice’s actions prove that President Obama and Attorney General Holder, both African-Americans, are seeking to prevent poor African-American children from having the opportunity to access a quality education. Quoting from The Advocate:

“This is shameful. President (Barack) Obama and Attorney General (Eric) Holder are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents,” Jindal said in a prepared statement released Saturday.

Ordinarily, I would ask, “Who the hell does Bobby Jindal think he’s fooling?” But unfortunately, I perused the comment cesspool on NOLA.com: Bobby Jindal knows exactly who he’s fooling.

And although Bobby Jindal is pretty skilled at preparing statements against the President, for whatever reason, he’s never been able to figure out how to actually do his job. Truth be told: He may be OK at politicking, but he’s pretty terrible at governing. This case, for example, has very little to do with the Obama administration opposing school vouchers; it’s based, almost entirely, on Governor Jindal’s epic incompetence, sloppy record-keeping, and utter contempt for transparency.

Bobby Jindal can blame Barack Obama for his own failures until he turns blue in the face; it’s just a short-term sound byte that he hopes will distract from a long-term problem. But as much as he may try, Bobby Jindal can no longer get away with blaming his failures on the President. He should consult the polls, because Barack Obama is more popular in Louisiana than he is. And for a good reason.

Like him or loathe him, at least Barack Obama, unlike Mr. Jindal, takes his job seriously.

21 thoughts

  1. The Republicans and many people in Louisiana continuously claim that President Obama is inept at his job and was never qualified to be President of the U.S. However, they first need to look at their own Bobby Jindal. I have lived in seven states, one of them Illinois, in my 67 years of life and Bobby Jindal and his staff are by far the most heavy handed, inept, incompetent, bungling and law-breaking administration I have ever encountered. It is time he is impeached before he completes his intended destruction of our state.

  2. And who is complicit with John White? 9 members of the BESE board! They cannot plead ignorance in a court of law or before the public because they are constantly made aware and held accountable by the public, parents, educators, advocates, school board members, superintendents – sadly missing, the press . Why would they sacrifice their reputations for the likes of Bobby Jindal?

  3. You forgot to mention that these schools also discriminate based upon disability. They like to tell parents hat they cannot take their children bc they cannot provide the services they need. What happens then, is SEGREGATION!

    1. Not only is this a sign that the school voucher program is not very well-prepared, but then the children with learning disabilities or in need of physical assistance are sent back into the public school system, which does have those items in place, but are then judged to be less-worthy than their private “peers” on a per capita testing regime, compounding the financial assault on public education that the conservatives have staked battle lines upon.

  4. I have a daughter that gets a school voucher. We are one of the wealthier school systems of our state. The system let her down, she was in a class of apprx. 25 kids all she was was a number! We discovered she had a learning disability and qualified for a voucher! We put her in a private school where she has 6 class mates, shes been there 3 years and has done nothing but excel! So yall can cram ur shity public school system and your state employees who could careless about nothing but drawing a pay check like the rest of the goverment workers in the United States, right up ur assssssss …..lol

    1. While I’m happy for your daughter’s success, have you no compassion or care for those students who are less fortunate than your daughter?

    1. I know you’re in Oklahoma, not Louisiana, and Oklahoma’s voucher program is vastly different than Louisiana’s. I’m biting my tongue here, because frankly, I have very little patience for acerbic people who uniquely benefit from government largesse and then have the audacity to denounce public school teachers and civil servants. It reeks of mean-spirited hypocrisy.

      I don’t know your daughter, but I know this: I was born with a physical disability, cerebral palsy, and I spent almost the entirety of my childhood in the Louisiana public school system. My parents had the means to enroll me in private schools (which they did, much to my dismay, when I was in junior high). But there’s a reason I spent my elementary school and high school years in public schools: Public schools protect disabled students vastly more than private schools; public schools, under the IDEA Act, are required to provide disabled students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). I was accommodated in my public schools; it leveled the playing field for me. And even though I attended schools in a small city in the rural South, I received a great education. I graduated in the top ten percent of my class, attended a top-tier undergraduate institution, and am now enrolled in a top-tier law school. And you know what? I don’t remember ever being in a class of fewer than 25 kids, including my stint in a private junior high school.

      If your daughter has a recognized learning disability that qualifies under Section 504 or the IDEA Act, then she would have been accommodated. And if she wasn’t, then you would have had standing to sue.

      As others have already noted, private schools are under no such obligation, and many of them do, in fact, discriminate against disabled children.

      On a final note, the reason I was enrolled in a private school during junior high was because my parents were, in my opinion, unnecessarily worried about the specter of school violence. As it turns out, the smartest and most accomplished members of my peer group in Alexandria attended the public junior high schools. (And by the time I was back in public school, as a freshman in high school, the private school kids seemed far less prepared).

      I remember when my parents told me they were going to take me out of the public school system. I cried. I felt betrayed. But not for the reasons one may think: I was upset because, to me, public schools made me have a deep and profound appreciation for my community. I knew the kids in private schools, and I knew they weren’t any smarter than I was. But I also knew that I had something they didn’t: They were being purposely sheltered and isolated. So, as smart as they were, they were also amazingly naive and ignorant and, more often than not, racist.

      You’re apparently in Oklahoma, so I don’t expect you to understand how crucial this experience is for kids in Louisiana.

      Bobby Jindal’s voucher program has very little to do with education; it was and still is an ill-conceived, poorly-executed, and completely unaccountable scheme to enrich the religious right. And in the process, in attempting to sell this scheme to voters, Jindal and his allies have been more than happy to shamelessly attack our most underpaid and under-appreciated public service heroes: Our teachers. Public school teachers don’t choose education as a career because they seek to make a fortune, but ironically, that’s exactly what seems to be motivating the vast majority of voucher school operators.

    1. Fredster- i was all for it, but my wife was worried that putting her in a private school would put her further behind,, so we held off. Her dr was the one who diagnosed her because the worthless public servants (and thats what they are) didnt care to spend time enough with her to figure out what was wrong! Theyre answer was to hold her back a year lol i mean why would they wana see whats wrong, look at the money theyd lose! And lamar the teachers at my daughters school and the teachers at my private school barely made/make half of what public sector did….. They do it because they love kids….not money…..

      1. With all due respect, if you were “all for” placing your daughter in a private school and had the means and ability to do so, then why are you now asking the government for a hand-out?

        Also, teachers and public servants DO NOT AND CANNOT DIAGNOSE KIDS WITH DISABILITIES; DOCTORS DIAGNOSE DISABILITIES. I mean, sheesh. Seriously. You’re the girl’s father; ostensibly, you should know her better than anyone. And you want to blame her public school teachers for not “diagnosing” her with a disability???

        Unbelievable.

        1. And what’s equally unbelievable: You’re implying that these teachers didn’t want to “diagnose” your daughter (even though they couldn’t) because they were more interested in making money. Oh sure, that’s why they wanted to hold her back a year. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. It was a huge money-making conspiracy.

          Maybe, just maybe, parents should take the initiative of and responsibility for seeking the opinions of medical professionals about their children. You’re her father, after all, and you want to blame her teachers, those “worthless public servants,” for being negligent in not identifying her as disabled, for “not spending enough time with her.” Maybe that helps you sleep better at night, but ultimately, the buck stops with you.

          Sorry, it’s very hard to empathize or even sympathize with your mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing, and ignorant complaints.

        2. Lamar i know you know nothing about a private school system even tho you say you went to one, but private schools have alll different price ranges just like colleges. From 3k a year to 30k…. Yea i do blame the school system because ud think they had maybe run across this problem with another child before, at minimun they couldve point us in the right direction… But there worried about drawing a pay check instead…. But the system is failing and they know it just like you do….

          1. Believer, if you live in Oklahoma, why don’t you complain to your own legislature and educators. We have enough problems in our state without hearing complaints from you. Go fight your battles in your own state. I know and have known many public school teachers and administrators in Louisiana and six other states, including my wife, two sisters, a brother-in-law and many friends. There was/is only one reason they were all teachers – they loved children and wanted to invest their time and their own money in teaching them and preparing them for their future. If they were in it for money they were all pretty stupid, because there is very little money in public teaching. Relative to the time, effort and dedication I see them go through to serve our young people as teachers, their salaries are pathetic regardless of where one lives, but particularly in Louisiana. The voucher system as designed and implemented or attempted by Governor Jindal and his lieutenants in Louisiana is a farce and highly illegal as the courts have determined. It was clearly designed to make a profit first, which is what private enterprise is all about. Children, improving their education and their future is secondary.

  5. Vouchers: What school are the kids in Lake Providence supposed to voucher out to ? Local Baptist Church in Alexandria sends filled book sacks to Lake Providence at start of year. Has any one given ANY thought to what to do about broke-ass school systems like the River Parishes. On Meet The Press yesterday the Gov. said EVERYONE agrees education the answer to hard core poverty. So…….what is the solution for so many of our financial strapped poor parish systems ????????

  6. The problem with your theory of the alleged-president and this current third attempt at suing a state is that this suit will not succeed. There was a case in the early two-thousands between the city of Cleveland and the federal government over this exact thing.

    The federal government lost that case and it will lose this one because the Supreme Court has already ruled that a educational voucher system is legal.

    Sure, they might win in a lower court because of the same reason the alleged-president won on the NSA. by shopping for judges.

    I think, that ultimately the Jindal administration will win this fight.

  7. I don’t have a problem with a properly run voucher system, but Jindal’s system was not properly developed and implemented and it is clearly not properly run and managed. There is way too much room for fraud and abuse due lack of accountability, which is exactly what has been found and the system is barely a year old. In addition Jindal implemented it to purposely destroy the public school system and added a second prong of destruction by decreasing funding to the public school system. The vast majority of the people still depend on the public school system and it needs to be supported, because the vast majority of the students still come out of it well-educated.

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