WASHINGTON — Gov. Bobby Jindal took to a national stage Wednesday to call the Obama administration “cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more” for seeking to temporarily cease Louisiana’s much-debated school voucher program.
Speaking at the National Press Club here, Jindal said the U.S. Justice Department is acting with “political” motives that likely come from a desire to appease national teacher union groups.
The U.S. Justice Department is attempting in federal court to ban Louisiana from continuing the voucher program for students who otherwise would attend public schools under federal desegregation orders. The lawsuit alleges that the scholarship program is, in some cases, leading to more segregation in schools.
Jindal said such a claim is completely false. He challenged Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to come to Louisiana and explain the legal challenges to the 8,000 students Jindal said are benefiting from the program. “They would send our children to these failing schools,” Jindal said.
Vouchers are state tax dollars to help pay for students who attend public schools rated C, D or F, and who meet other conditions, to attend private schools.
Jindal and other backers say the aid offers students trapped in poor schools a way out. Critics say vouchers drain vital dollars from traditional public schools.
“Our children only grow up once,” Jindal said. “They only get one chance to get a good education.”
The U.S. Justice Department previously said in a prepared statement that the agency is not trying to end the voucher program. “The United States seeks a straightforward goal: to ensure that the State of Louisiana implements its school voucher program in a manner that complies with the U.S. Constitution and longstanding federal desegregation orders.”
Jindal was backed up Wednesday by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Even though voucher programs take dollars from public schools, Bush argued that such programs improve public schools by introducing “competition” and motivating them to improve.
“There are too many young people who are trapped in poverty because they don’t have a quality education,” Bush said.
Jindal said Obama is “completely contradicting” his own words because the president has argued that education is the best anti-poverty program.
Jindal also thanked U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP congressional leaders who wrote Holder on Tuesday to ask the federal government to consider ceasing its intervention in Louisiana’s school voucher program.
Louisiana has 34 school districts under federal desegregation orders that seek equal treatment and funding for all students in areas where there was evidence of racial discrimination decades ago.
The Justice Department is arguing that consent from a federal judge overseeing desegregation orders is needed to continue the voucher program.
Vouchers have been given to students in 22 of those districts, according to the lawsuit. The Obama administration argued that vouchers have negatively affected racial demographics in schools in 13 of the districts thus far and, as a result, harmed the desegregation progress. The contention is that expanding the voucher program could further skew racial demographics and create additional racial segregation.
When asked if a compromise was possible, Jindal said, “I think there’s a great chance for them to drop the lawsuit if they realize how absurd it is.”