Report: Vouchers aid desegregation

Disputing the U.S. Department of Justice, a report issued Thursday says Louisiana’s voucher program aids public school desegregation.

“The evidence suggests that use of private school vouchers by low-income students actually has positive effects on racial integration,” according to a study released by the academic quarterly journal Education Next, which is produced jointly by Harvard and Stanford universities.

The review stems from legal papers filed in August by the U.S. Department of Justice that said vouchers risked upsetting federal desegregation orders.

The department said the state has awarded vouchers to students in 22 school districts operating under desegregation mandates.

Vouchers are state aid for students who attend public schools rated C, D or F to attend private schools if they meet income and other requirements.

Backers say that more than 90 percent of voucher recipients are minorities.

The department’s challenge is pending in a federal court in New Orleans.

The Education Next study says its review shows voucher tranfers “overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools that students leave, bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.”

It says, “These findings should help mitigate fears that school choice is harming desegregation efforts in Louisiana.”

Federal officials have asked that students in some school districts be required to get the approval of a federal court before they can accept a voucher, which backers called scholarships.

About 8,000 students statewide are getting vouchers in the current school year. They began in New Orleans in 2008 and expanded statewide in 2012.

The report says it relied on information from the state Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Justice Department lawsuit, among other sources. It defined integration improvements as student transfers that moved a school’s racial composition closer to that of nearby areas.

“For example, if an African-American student leaves a school that is more African American than its surrounding community we would say that this transfer has improved integration as the prior school,” according to the review.

“On the other hand, if a white student uses a ... voucher to attend a school that is more white than its surrounding coummunity the transfer would be reducing integration at the new school,” the report says.

Education Next said that, of 34 school districts under 1970’s-era federal desegregation court orders analyzed, 74 percent of the moves improved integration while 26 percent had a negative impact.

Among receiving schools, 56 percent of transfers improved integration, according to the report.

State Superintendent of Education John White said in August that about 1,000 students receive vouchers in the 34 school districts.

White said the most affected areas would be the Tangipahoa, St. John, Ouachita and Franklin parishes school systems.

The federal action has sparked criticism from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who says the legal action would force students back into troubled public schools.