WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 10, 2013
The Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit to stop the state of Louisiana from implementing a private school choice program to help low-income students trapped in failing public schools. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is among those who have voiced concerns about the administration's action, stating, “Private school choice programs provide students the priceless opportunity to escape underperforming schools. Any effort by the Obama administration to prevent low-income and minority students from participating in these programs is extremely troubling.”
An article in Bloomberg News highlights the administration’s attack on school choice:
The administration’s latest strike against school choice is a lawsuit against a program in Louisiana, created by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. The Justice Department is using a 1975 desegregation order to argue that Louisiana should get approval from a federal court before giving scholarships to students in some school districts. Otherwise, the department claims, the scholarships could make Louisiana schools less racially integrated.
The program is open to poor families with kids in public schools that have gotten a C, D or F from the state government. In Louisiana, most of those families are black, not members of the White Citizens’ Council. The Jindal administration says 90 percent of the recipients are black. The state’s department of education reports that so far these students are doing better on math and literacy tests than they were in public schools.
The Justice Department cites two public schools to illustrate its concerns. Five white students used scholarships to leave one, “reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.” In another, the exit of six black students made a “white school” whiter.
This is racial bean-counting at its worst. Jason Bedrick, who studies education policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, calculates that the first school went from 29.6 percent to 28.9 percent white. The second went from 30.1 percent to 29.2 percent black. These are trivial changes.
The Justice Department is also measuring school segregation in a perverse way. It treats a school as integrated when it matches the racial composition of the school district. Yet the districts are themselves segregated -- and tying school attendance to residency makes that segregation worse. Neighborhoods with good public schools have higher property values, which makes it harder for poor black families to move into them. Americans who have enough money exercise school choice when they buy their homes.
Greg Forster, a researcher who favors school choice, addresses the measurement problem by comparing schools’ racial makeup to that of their metropolitan areas. He points out that seven studies have found that school choice promotes racial integration -- measured correctly -- while one found it has no impact. No study has found that it promotes segregation.
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