Supporters of voucher program say DOJ lawsuit will trap La. students in failing schools

TANGIPAHOA PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The battle 50 years ago was for equal education in public schools. But one group says some of those public schools are not educating children. Now they are fighting the Department of Justice, to allow the state to keep its scholarship program in place.

But the Black Alliance for Education Options says this battle presents some irony.

Parents rallied to have a choice in where their children attend school. They wanted the option to take their children out of failing public schools and enroll them into more successful private schools, using the state's scholarship program also known as vouchers. This year, the Department of Education received 12,000 applications from parents. 8,000 scholarships were awarded. But the program is facing renewed opposition.

The Department of Justice has petitioned federal courts in Louisiana, to stop the program in 34 school districts that are still under a desegregation order. BAEO leaders say that would affect around 600 students. Students in St. Helena Parish would be affected. Eric Lewis, with BAEO, says for years that district has been one on the failing list.

"You would be surprised to find five non-black kids at that school," Lewis said.

He says the focus should be on giving those kids access to quality education.

According to the Department of Justice, when white students in public schools get scholarships or vouchers to leave for private schools, racial balance is disrupted.

"Ninety one percent of the children in the program are minority. Eighty six percent of children are African-American. It is unheard of and offensive that the very laws to help our children get out of depressed and failing situations are now hurting our kids," said Ann Duplessis, the state director for the Louisiana Federation for Children.

She and others are angered over the move by the federal government, saying the issue today is not what it was 50 years ago.

"50 years ago, the primary issue was, you had the state of Louisiana participating with white racists who wanted to use state money to ensure they could create white schools that black people couldn't attend. We had to fight that issue. That is not the issue today," said Dr. Howard Fuller, also with BAEO. The issue now, he says, is schools not educating children. The proof, he says, is the thousands of parents taking their kids out of failing public schools.

Governor Bobby Jindal is quick to defend vouchers, something he pushed hard to get approved in Louisiana. The Governor said Tuesday; it seems the Department of Justice is seeking to trap these children in failing environments.

"I guarantee you Eric Holder wouldn't send his kids to failing schools. I guarantee you the senior federal officials wouldn't send their kids to failing schools. It's not right to make these parents send their kids to failing schools," the Governor said.

Governor Jindal says the Department of Justice does not know what's best for children. He says he will continue to fight for the voucher program. The LFC and BAEO have also made the same pledge. The lawsuit, filed by the Department of Justice, is still ongoing.

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