Opinion

Eric Holder denies opposing Louisiana school voucher program in spite of Justice Department lawsuit

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Education,Joel Gehrke,Louisiana,Eric Holder,Justice Department,School Choice

Attorney General Eric Holder denied that the Justice Department "took a position" on a Louisiana school choice program that administration officials tried to restrict by asking a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction against issuing vouchers to students in some school districts.

“I hope he went under oath when he said that," Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., told the Washington Examiner when asked about Holder's claim. "If filing a lawsuit isn't taking a position on an issue, I don't know what is. Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are trying to impede children who haven't had access to a great education from getting the chance to go to better schools."

Holder took a shot at Jindal and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., during a congressional hearing Friday when Harris said that a Justice Department division had taken the voucher program to court.

"We were seeking to get from the state of Louisiana information about their voucher program, [we] never ever took the position that we were against vouchers," Holder told Harris. "It's a talking point that Gov. Jindal and others — I guess you — think makes good political fodder, but it's totally inconsistent with the facts."

On Aug. 22, 2013, Justice Department attorneys asked a federal judge to prevent Louisiana from awarding school vouchers to minority students on the argument that, by helping minority students leave public schools, the state was making the schools more white, thereby frustrating" desegregation laws.

“There is irrefutable evidence that [Louisiana's] actions in awarding vouchers to students attending school districts operating under federal desegregation orders are interfering with or frustrating the implementation of federal desegregation orders in multiple school districts," attorneys in the civil rights division and educational opportunities division wrote in the court filing. "For example, in several districts operating under desegregation orders, the State's issuance of vouchers increased the racial identifiability of schools because the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.”

Holder said there should be no confusion on this point. "We were clear in the interaction that we had with the state that we took no position with regard to the voucher program, we only sought information about how the voucher program was being run and how it affected a longstanding statewide anti-discrimination settlement that had been in place for years, simply that, simply that," he told Harris.

The request for a permanent injunction against the program came after the department asked Louisiana for information about the program.

"After analyzing the data, the United States determined that the state’s voucher awards appeared to impede the desegregation process in 34 schools in 13 school districts," the August petition explained.

Justice dropped that effort in November, demanding "annual updates" on the program instead, according to Politico. “Given the court's recent orders, which provide for a process for the United States to obtain the relief we are seeking, the United States is no longer seeking an injunction at this time," a Justice Department spokesman told Politico.

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