Voucher opponents shouldn’t be rooting for a Holder victory in Louisiana

Eric Holder's Justice Department recently announced it would not target states that had chosen to legalize marijuana due to its "limited prosecutorial resources." The Obama presidency has shown us that "insufficient funds" is an exceedingly unlikely reason for inaction. Instead, this appears to be yet another example of the Administration’s willingness to pick and choose which laws passed by Congress it will enforce. I suppose some will take the DOJ at its word but, nevertheless, it's interesting to note where the nation's chief law enforcement officials are spending our precious tax dollars.

If liberty were the Administration's priority, you sure wouldn't know it by their school-choice policies. Instead of reducing violent crime and keeping what it still classifies—rightly or wrongly—as a dangerous drug off the streets, government lawyers are working feverishly to overturn the will of both parents and their state elected officials by denying educational options to potentially thousands of Louisiana children.

Louisiana’s 2012 school-voucher law allows low-income families with children in failing schools to choose a higher-quality option. The DOJ, relying on decades-old desegregation orders in thirty-four districts, is working to deny parental choice in the name of keeping schools integrated. This is especially puzzling given that studies have shown school choice often improves diversity. Some outstanding recent analysis on Jay Greene’s blog has found the government's argument in this regard to be splitting hairs at best.

Parents have not only a right but also an obligation to take advantage of the resources at their disposal to provide the best possible opportunities for their family. But when the privileged use their resources to cut off the few options available to the less fortunate, it is especially shameful.  It's no wonder both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal strongly condemned the DOJ's actions.

Or consider the wise words of blogger (and parent) Chris Stewart, who wrote recently, "You would think that white progressives would be the biggest champion of empowering poor families, especially those from historically marginalized communities, with the same opportunities they enjoy. But it isn’t so...That’s doubly puzzling given the fact that Eric Holder, Obama’s leader of the now anti-choice DOJ, was the beneficiary of a highly exclusive education, he attended New York’s Stuyvesant High School, a selective admissions high school that has been accused of racial bias in enrollment."

Recent polling shows divided support for vouchers, but Obama and Holder’s crude wielding of court orders originally designed to provide minority students with better educational options could change public opinion quickly.

Students in the Louisiana voucher program are disproportionately minorities, all are from low-income families, and all have been stuck in failing public schools. Oddly, school improvement has been a top Obama priority but a consistent blind spot has been the fate of the children attending these schools-in-transition. As Governor Bobby Jindal wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, "This opportunity is perhaps these children’s best chance to escape the cycle of poverty. No one in their right mind could argue that the Justice Department’s efforts to block the scholarship program will help these kids. This can only be an attempt to curry favor with the government unions that provide financial largess and political power."

Aside from those special interests, the Administration’s move is sure to backfire with a public that generally cringes at attempts to put politics above educational opportunity. A legal victory for the Justice Department would only provoke even greater outrage. When real Louisiana children are denied a real chance at a quality education, expect even some who oppose the concept of vouchers to object.

I'm no attorney, but the factual and legal grounds for DOJ's action certainly seems shaky and calls to mind perhaps the worst of “enlightened-progressive” excesses: the belief that government can raise your kids better than you can. Perhaps the Obama Administration has sufficiently satisfied liberal voucher opponents by merely taking action in these cases. On the other hand, depending on how the court ruled, the impact of a DOJ victory on the voucher program and the children served by it is anyone’s guess.

Whatever might be gained politically by smothering Louisiana's fledgling voucher program seems outweighed by the potential public backlash, especially if federal government is victorious. Voucher supporters and the students those policies benefit will certainly be rooting against a win for the DOJ, but perhaps opponents of school choice should be, too.

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