BATON ROUGE, La. – When it comes to obscenity, cheating kids out of a good education is far worse than a salacious dance act.
While it is a sad spectacle to watch a gawky 20 year-old stick out her tongue and sex it up in front of millions on national television, the 62 year-old U.S. Attorney General’s act is far worse, as his will do much more lasting harm. He waves his magic wand and poof – thousands of poor children are chained to the confines of failing schools in Louisiana.
Miley Cyrus would appear to be a lost puppy whose father claimed in 2011 that she was influenced by Satan. On the other hand, Eric Holder would seem to be under the spell of the teachers unions and the overrated god of diversity.
The Holder story has its roots in May when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that:
the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program.
In other words, the voucher program is sound, but the court thought its funding mechanism wasn’t constitutional. So on June 6th, the Louisiana House and Senate compromised on a budget that allowed the program to use funds not allocated through the state’s funding formula.
Problem solved, right?
Later in June, the teachers unions – School Choice Enemy No. 1 – promptly swung into action.
The Louisiana Association of Educators and several local teachers associations have filed a class-action suit charging that the state owes local school boards $199 million as a result of the Louisiana Supreme Court decision striking down part of the state’s voucher law.
Okay, so we are still dealing with funding issues, not the legality of vouchers.
But then in August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the bomb and The Wall Street Journalpointed out its stunning irony,
On nearly the same day the Attorney General spoke in Washington to honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, his Justice Department sued to block the educational dreams of minority children in Louisiana.
Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder’s lawyers claim the voucher program appears “to impede the desegregation progress” required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn’t be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.
Passed in 2012, Louisiana’s state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black.(Emphasis added.)
Impeding desegregation? On what grounds does the Justice Department make this claim? Cato’s Jason Bedrick explains,
In Tangipahoa Parish, for instance, Independence Elementary School lost five white students to voucher schools, the petition states. The consequent change in the percent of enrolled white students “reinforc(ed) the racial identity of the school as a black school.”
Five students! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 143 white students out of 482 students at Independence Elementary School in 2010-11 (the most recent year for which data is available). Assuming that recent enrollment and racial composition is the same and that no black students received vouchers as well, that’s a shift from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Though the students at Independence almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation.
But the DOJ is not content merely to prevent white students from exercising school choice. The petition also cites Cecilia Primary School, which in 2012-13 “lost six black students as a result of the voucher program,” thereby “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.” In the previous school year, the school’s racial composition was 30.1 percent black, which the DOJ notes was 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of the district as a whole. According to the NCES, in 2010-11 there were 205 black students out of a total enrollment of 758, so the school was 27 percent black. Assuming a constant total enrollment, the DOJ’s numbers suggest that there were 228 black students in 2011-12. The loss of six black students would mean the school’s racial composition shifted from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black as a result of the voucher program. Again, imperceptible to untrained eye but a grave threat to racial harmony according to the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.
These are the only two schools cited directly in the DOJ’s petition, so presumably they represent the two cases with the largest impact. A footnote reveals that “The net loss ranged up to thirteen students per school.”
Why is Holder doing this obscene dance?
Is he so smitten with the concept of diversity that he is letting it take precedent over the needs of poor kids in failing schools? Could be, but then again, as noted above, the voucher-driven diversity realignment is miniscule. Or, is he doing the bidding of the teachers unions who are powerful political allies? Maybe both. But whatever the motivation, the lawsuit stinks, and the harm it will inflict on mostly underprivileged, minority children is tragic.
What Holder and his ilk don’t seem to understand is that most parents are not stricken with the diversity obsession, and simply want the best education possible for their kids. If you ask any parent of any ethnicity if they rather their kid get a first class education at single-ethnicity school or a mediocre-to-lousy one at a rainbow-school, we all know what the answer would be.
Louisiana’s gutsy governor Bobby Jindal put it all into perspective in an interview with Neil Cavuto,
My parents came here over 40 years ago in search of the American dream, confident if you worked hard, it didn’t matter what race you were, didn’t matter who you knew. That’s what we’re trying to deliver for our kids. And that’s why it’s just ridiculous to me that the Obama administration would side with teachers unions over these young children.
Cavuto then asked Jindal if he thought that the teachers unions were pushing the issue because vouchers endanger their jobs. Jindal responded,
Oh, absolutely. Look, they tried, they tried to take us all the way up to the state Supreme Court to stop this program. The teachers unions did. The program is still here. They tried recalling our speaker of the House and me and some others. And we’re still here. The reality is, teachers unions, when we started this statewide, said that parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their kids. (Emphasis added.)
That’s their world viewpoint. These government unions think the bureaucrats know better. I have met with the moms. And, Neil, it would break your heart that they’re working multiple jobs. They want their kids to have a better quality of life than they have had. They’re trying to do the right thing. They’re telling me this is the first time my kid is bringing home homework, my kid is going to school with discipline. My kids are talking about for the first time thinking about going to college, the first one in our families to graduate from high school. They’re talking about becoming the first ones.
As we all know, Martin Luther King concluded his famous speech 50 years ago with the inspirational words, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” But if Mr. Holder and the teachers unions get their way, a bunch of school kids and their families in Louisiana will remain shackled to their failing schools, guaranteeing that their shot at achieving the American dream and true freedom will be next to impossible. Dr. King would be outraged.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.