NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Justice Department is asking for extra time to produce documents in a case linking the state's private school tuition program to longstanding federal desegregation orders.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday that the request is an example of Obama administration incompetence.
"Were these documents lost in the Obamacare website? Or did the Department of Justice just ignore the documents and file a lawsuit against the state without having all of the information available?" he said in a news release.
Justice attorneys say in papers filed Tuesday that the recent partial shutdown of the federal government has contributed to a delay in compiling the documents. They asked for a new Dec. 16 deadline.
The case arises from an August filing in which the Justice Department argues there is evidence that moving students from public schools to private schools affects racial balances in districts under desegregation orders.
Among the documents the state seeks are copies of numerous past desegregation orders.
"Many of those cases involve over 40 years of history and numerous successive court orders and consent decrees; some of those documents may be available only in federal archives and may require significant time to retrieve," department lawyers said.
Justice lawyers argue that the documents won't be needed for a Nov. 22 hearing on the legal question involving whether a desegregation order in one 1970s Louisiana desegregation case, Brumfield v. Dodd, applies to the voucher program.
Louisiana's voucher program, called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, makes taxpayer-funded private school tuition available to students from low- to moderate-income families who otherwise would attend public schools graded C, D or F in the state's rating system.
Opponents of the program question its effectiveness and say it draws state money that should be going to public schools. Jindal has pushed the voucher program as offering more choices to parents and students trapped in low-performing schools.
The state Department of Education said recently that 6,751 students are enrolled in 126 private schools across the state with taxpayer dollars.
"The administration's latest gaffe is an admission that it sued the state based on documents the Department of Justice is not able to readily produce," Jindal said.