Sunday, August 25, 2013

An Exercise in Cynicism: The Obama Administration Mucks Around in Louisiana's School Voucher Program

Let's try to put ourselves inside the mind of Attorney General Eric Holder as he tried to decide whether the federal government should intervene in Louisiana's school voucher program.

With friends like Eric Holder, Louisiana school children don't need enemies.

"Let's see," Mr. Holder might have said to himself, "if I impede Louisiana's voucher program, I will please the teacher unions, because they hate all school vouchers."  Since the teacher unions are a core constituency of the Democratic Party, interfering with Louisiana's voucher program would be a big plus for President Obama.

"Second," Mr. Holder might have mused, "if I harass the Louisiana voucher plan, the federal government will make it more difficult for poor children to attend religious schools." So, that would be another big plus.

"Finally," Holder may have thought to himself, "sidetracking a Republican governor's school reform initiative is never a bad thing to do."  So that would be another plus in favor of federal intervention in Louisiana's voucher program.

Hey, what's not to like? 

And so the Obama administration has intervened in an old school-desegregation lawsuit, seeking to persuade a federal judge that a federal court must decide whether children residing in districts covered by desegregation orders may participate in Louisiana's school voucher program for poor children.

I have to agree with Governor Bobby Jindal on this one.  What Eric Holder and the Obama administration has done is shameful.  As Governor Jindal put it, Obama and Holder "are trying to keep kids trapped in failing public schools against the wishes of their parents."

Let me be clear. I am not an uncritical cheerleader for all of Governor Jindal's school reform initiatives. I think the tenure reforms he rammed through the Louisiana legislature are deeply flawed. And Governor Jindal's school voucher program is not perfect either.

But at least Louisiana is trying to improve its failing school systems, and I think it is making some progress.  I remember visiting New Orleans schools during the mid-1990s, before Hurricane Katrina came and basically wiped the New Orleans school system off the map.  The New Orleans schools were terrible during the pre-Katrina years; and no one--liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, white person or black--would want Louisiana's then largest school system to return to those days.

Today, more New Orleans students attend charter schools than public schools, and most New Orleans schools are slowly getting better.  Are they perfect? No they are not.  But Eric Holder's attempt to impede Louisiana's school voucher program won't help a single impoverished school child get a better education. 

If the Obama administration truly wants to do something to improve education in this country, it should take on the for-profit colleges that have exploited millions of Americans who just wanted to get a good education--including a lot of low-income and minority young people. 

But that would be too hard.  It is much easier to launch senseless and expensive litigation against a Southern state's efforts to improve its education system.  Louisiana's Education Superintendent John White called the litigation "deeply cynical:" and off course, he's right.


Michelle Millhollon. Jindal rebukes Fed voucher stance. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, August 25, 2013, p. IB.

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