Cantor blasts Obama again over vouchers during visit

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor used his second visit to New Orleans this year to criticize the Obama administration again for moving to temporarily halt Louisiana’s school voucher program in much of the state.

The Virginia Republican toured classrooms Monday at a Catholic school in the Central Business District, chatting with students and teachers during a roundtable discussion and taking aim at the Justice Department for trying to interfere with a program that gives low-income families in “failing” public schools money to attend private schools.

In a court filing in August, the federal government argued that in some cases white students had used vouchers to opt out of majority-black public schools, and vice versa, leaving those schools more racially homogeneous as a result.

That, the government argued, violated court-overseen desegregation orders that go back decades.

The filing has prompted a fusillade of criticism from Republicans in Washington, D.C., who argue the Justice Department’s priorities are out of whack, given that the voucher program mainly benefits black students.

Monday’s visit to the Good Shepherd School, one of a series he is making to schools around the country, gave Cantor another opportunity to highlight his differences with the president and focus on a Republican priority that’s not associated with the national debt or last month’s government shutdown.

“I really hope that when President Obama is here in New Orleans this week that he will take the time to come to Good Shepherd, to come and see what a school like this does for these kids,” Cantor said.

“Make no mistake about it, these are at-risk kids who without the guidance of nurturing faculty and administration here at Good Shepherd would not have the opportunity of a successful future.”

The president, who has not commented directly on the Louisiana voucher case, is planning to visit New Orleans on Friday to discuss the economy, though details haven’t been released.

It has not been clear how involved the White House has been in the voucher litigation.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who counts the voucher program as one of his main legislative achievements, has extended Obama the same invitation, asking the president to take a firsthand look at the program’s impact.

On Monday, Cantor stopped in on third- and fourth-grade classes, querying students about their favorite subjects and trying to explain what exactly his job is in Washington.

“We write the rules,” he said.

Then he sat down in the school library for a discussion with teachers, parents who have students attending the school on vouchers and members of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, one of the main advocacy groups promoting vouchers in Louisiana and around the country.

The stories he heard from parents helped support the case for giving families a choice about where they send their children to school.

Camika Bajoie told Cantor that she had been “stalking” administrators at Good Shepherd for three years trying to get her son off the waiting list.

“My son came from a public school,” she said. “Coming to Good Shepherd was better for him, curriculum-wise. The teachers and the staff take more time with you.”

She said, “At the public school I barely knew his teachers.”

Still, there were some awkward moments, as when Cantor asked Ethan Ashley, a local official with BAEO, to describe the relationship between the voucher program and the charter-school movement in Louisiana.

Both ideas are premised on giving families a choice: Charter schools, unlike traditional schools, typically don’t require that students live in the immediate area. But in Louisiana, charter advocates, many of them Democrats, have not always been on the same page as the governor, with some fretting that the private schools accepting public money aren’t held to the same standard that public charters are.

“The relationship between charters and the scholarship program, I think we’ve seen a lot of progress there,” Ashley said, somewhat noncommittally.