Judge: State must provide info on vouchers to U.S.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Louisiana education officials to provide federal lawyers with regular reports each year on students and schools involved in a state voucher program that provides public funding for some students attending private schools.
The Justice Department has sought to review the state's assignments of voucher students to make sure they don't promote segregation in violation of an order from a 1971 desegregation case.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle's order, released Tuesday, requires that the state provide federal officials with lists of voucher applicants and information including whether they were approved for private-school funding and which school they will attend. The lists will have to be provided 10 days before the student's families are notified of their voucher eligibility.
Lemelle's order also calls for a series of reports at various times of the year. The reports would have to include a variety of data on enrollment data and racial breakdowns at all public schools, similar data on private schools participating in the voucher program and reasons why students found ineligible for the voucher program are rejected.
"We are reviewing the ruling to determine whether it adversely impacts the scholarship program," said Mike Reed, a spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal. "We will make a decision on possible next steps once we make that determination."
The statewide voucher program was pushed through the Legislature in 2012 by Jindal. It provides taxpayer-funded private school tuition to some low- and moderate-income families whose children would otherwise go to a low-performing public school.
Arguments before and after the program was approved had largely centered on the funding and effectiveness of voucher schools, and whether the program bled away money needed by public schools. Then, in an August filing, the Justice Department filed a motion in the case of Brumfield v. Dodd, a school desegregation lawsuit filed in 1971 that resulted in a 1975 desegregation order governing state spending on public schools.
Justice officials first sought an injunction blocking the issuance of future vouchers in districts under desegregation orders unless the state first obtained permission from the appropriate federal court. Justice attorneys have since backed away from seeking an injunction but have continued to seek information.
The Jindal administration and state Education Superintendent John White have been highly critical off the Justice Department efforts. Jindal has cast them as an effort by President Barack Obama's administration to deny low-income students a chance to attend better schools. White has said gathering and reporting some of the information Justice officials sought would be disruptive to the voucher program.
Lemelle had urged both sides to work toward an agreement on sharing information.