Written by Arnold Ahlert
In his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, President Obama hypocritically bemoaned the current state of education, saying that many Americans face a “fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects.” He claimed that such schools were “underfunded” and that every child has a “right … to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them.”
However, it is the Obama administration that has been instrumental in depriving poor, especially minority, children from the “right” to a quality education with its campaign to eradicate school vouchers. Just recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in New Orleans federal court to prevent Louisiana from implementing a voucher program at public schools that remains under federal desegregation orders.
According to the DOJ, the 570 students who received the vouchers for the 2012-2013 school year “impeded the desegregation process,” and therefore vouchers for 2014-15 school year must be blocked. The great irony here is that 90 percent of the children who used the vouchers to get themselves a better education are black Americans. Yet the DOJ remains concerned that 10 percent of the 2012-2013 voucher recipients came from schools that remain under desegregation orders written a half-century ago. In their court petition, the DOJ insists that some of the voucher recipients were “in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher.” As the Wall Street Journal wryly notes, the DOJ “is claiming that the voucher program may be illegal because minority kids made their failing public schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.”
Despite that reality, the DOJ claims that ”the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration.” Yet the actual number of students involved in the two examples cited by the DOJ itself reveals the fatuousness of that assertion. At Celilia Primary School in St. Martin Parish District, all of six black children transferred to voucher schools. Prior to the transfer, 30.1 percent of the student body was black. The District itself is 46.5 percent black. Yet the DOJ further asserted that the voucher program increased the difference in the racial composition between the school and the District, “reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.” How the DOJ maintains that a District less than half black is “predominantly” black is impossible to fathom.
The DOJ’s logic is equally twisted with regard to Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish District, where a grand total of five white students transferred to voucher schools. The school’s enrollment is 61.5 percent black in a District that is 47.5 percent black. Thus the school’s racial identity was already predominantly black. Yet the DOJ insists the loss of those five students “increased its black student percentage away from the district percentage, again reinforcing the identity of the school as a black school.”
The Louisiana Scholarship Program that established the voucher system was passed in 2012. It is a state-wide initiative guaranteeing a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250 percent of poverty who attend public schools graded C, D or F. In other words, it is designed to give poor families with children trapped in lousy schools a choice. In this particular case, that choice is for an overwhelmingly black American recipient base. Those would be very same black American children whose counterparts are trapped in some of the worst schools in the nation, most of which are in big cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Those are also cities where Democrats are running the show, and where their continuing alliance with education unions virtually ensures the miserable status quo will remain intact.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited confirmation by sources in Louisiana, the same dynamic is in play in the Pelican State. “It’s about helping the teachers union repeal the voucher law by any legal means, and the segregation gambit is the last one available,” the paper states. “Justice gives this strategy away when it claims ‘jurisdiction over Louisiana’ even for vouchers for students in districts without desegregation orders.”
This is not the Obama administration’s first effort to deny educational opportunities to minority children trapped in lousy schools. In his 2013 budget, Obama zeroed out funding for the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that served more than 1,600 minority students in the nation’s capital. The program, effectively killed in 2009 by the Democrat-controlled Congress, had been revived in 2011 when House Speaker John Boehner got it restored during heated budget negotiations with President Obama. It was subsequently zeroed out, despite the reality that students who used the vouchers to attend private schools had a 91 percent graduation rate, compared to the dismal 55 percent in Washington’s public school system. Even its cost was a bargain. Each voucher was worth $8000, far less than the $18,000 per child spent by D.C. Public Schools.
Money was the impetus behind multiple lawsuits attempting to thwart the use of vouchers in Louisiana, culminating in a 2012 ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court declaring that Governor Bobby Jindal’s method of funding the program was unconstitutional. The Court decided that per-pupil allocation, called the minimum foundation program (MFP), must go to public schools. Jindal refused to be thwarted, coming up $40 million from other public resources to cover the tab for this school year’s nearly 8,000 recipients.
Thus, it is no surprise that Jindal is incensed by the DOJ’s latest effort. ”After generations of being denied a choice, parents finally can choose a school for their child, but now the federal government is stepping in to prevent parents from exercising this right. Shame on them,” he said. ”Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school.”
Apparently not if it threatens a Democratic Party funding source. According to OpenSecrets.com, a website that tracks campaign financing by special interest groups, between 1989 and 2012, the fourth largest campaign contributor in the nation has been the National Education Association (NEA), which has fattened the coffers of politicians by more than $53 million. Sixty-two percent of those contributions went to Democrats, compared to just 4 percent for Republicans. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) came in at number ten, contributing more than $37 million to elected officials, 88 percent of which went to Democrats — and zero percent went to Republicans.
Thus the inevitable reality emerges: anything that threatens union leverage, even if it mortgages the future of millions of students around the nation, must be fought tooth and nail. It must be fought even as the Journal notes that seven out of eight national studies reveal vouchers actually enhance racial integration.
Under the current lawsuit, the Louisiana would be barred from assigning students in 34 school systems to private schools unless a federal judge agreed to it. Theoretically that could happen as early as next year. Yet Brian Blackwell, attorney for the Louisiana Association of Educators, indicated that the time, effort and evidence needed to persuade judges could take a lot longer.
Furthermore, the judge assigned to the case is problematic. In November 2012, Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that elements of Jindal’s educational reform package were unconstitutional, claiming they violated the desegregation agreement of Tangipahoa Parish, because the money that would have been spent on vouchers would have impeded their ability to pay for programs necessary to comply with federal desegregation orders. This puts the federal government in the position of being able to effectively kill any voucher system, simply by forcing the state to incur the costs necessary to achieve Washington’s vision of desegregation. Louisiana has appealed the ruling, which is currently pending.
State Education Superintendent John White notes the absurdity of the DOJ’s stance, contending that ”it’s a little ridiculous” to argue that students’ departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white, even as the rules that were initially conceived to combat racism are now being used to trap black children in failing schools. In other words, Eric Holder and the DOJ are essentially pursuing same kind of Jim Crow laws that were designed to achieve the same purpose, even as they falsely promoted the idea that schools in America would be ”separate but equal.” For Holder and the DOJ, as long as some federal notion of desegregation can be pursued under the banner of racial equality, it is irrelevant that such equality amounts to the equality of misery and deprivation. The very same misery and deprivation desegregation was designed to alleviate for millions of black Americans.
As for the students themselves, they remain nothing more than pawns beholden to a Democrat-union alliance whose promises of educational “reform” ring as hollow today as when they first made them more than 50 years ago. There is no other alliance in the nation that could produce a half-century of consistent failure and remain as viable. Perhaps one day, black Americans will realize that an inferior education leading to government dependency is one of the primary ways Democrats, who promote such dependency, maintain their power base. Until then, black American families will continue to have their children trapped in the hellholes many public schools have become.
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