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MEDDLING Feds have no business interfering in school choice

Chicago Tribune

The following editorial is republished from the Dec. 31 Chicago Tribune. Staff-written editorials will resume Tuesday.

School choice advocates cheered last month when the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its bid to halt Louisiana's tuition voucher program, but this battle isn't over. The feds are still intent on meddling with a program that's designed to give children more options for their education.

The Justice Department argues that the Louisiana program threatens to reverse desegregation efforts in the state. Note the odd logic: The taxpayer-funded vouchers are targeted to lower-income children who attend underperforming schools. Roughly 90 percent of the 6,700 children who receive vouchers and gain the opportunity to attend private schools are African-American. But the Justice Department believes this may perpetuate segregation.

The Justice Department dropped its bid for a permanent injunction in November, but the federal lawyers aren't done with Louisiana's effort to help children. A federal district court judge ruled that Justice could monitor the voucher program. Justice wants an intrusive monitoring effort that provides at least 45 days to review every decision on a voucher grant before the parents of a recipient are notified of the decision.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that will "red tape and regulate the program to death."

An analysis prepared for the Justice Department and released last week suggests that African-American children who receive vouchers tend to enroll in schools with predominantly minority student bodies, more so than do the white children who receive vouchers. Evidence of segregation? Lawyers for the feds don't go so far as to claim the analysis proves that, but the lawyers raise, hmmmm, suspicions.

Remember, children and parents who receive the vouchers have ... a ... choice. And the vast majority of students who receive vouchers are African-American.

Why is Justice being so heavy-handed with the Bayou State? The lawyers said they flagged the Louisiana program because it could interfere with the state's school desegregation efforts. Some Louisiana school districts still bus kids across town to desegregate schools.

The school choice program, approved by the Louisiana legislature in 2012, allows families that have incomes below 250 percent of the poverty line and whose children attend schools graded C or worse by the state to use a voucher to apply to attend private schools.

The Justice Department says its new analysis - spoiler alert - buttresses its argument for federal monitoring. From our reading, there's little if any evidence for that. The overwhelming benefit here goes to African-American children. They get a broader choice of schools. The parents of those children say they're very pleased with the program.

There's no reason for the Justice Department to stand in the schoolhouse door ... in Louisiana or elsewhere.

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