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School Choice Advocates Take Aim at Federal Government

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School choice advocates are lobbing strongly worded letters at the federal government in both New York City and Louisiana in response to interpretations of charter and voucher laws in those places.

In New York City, the U.S. Department of Education has informed charter schools there that they cannot reserve seats in their lotteries for English-language learners, low-income students, or any other at-risk student group, reports GothamSchools. The Education Department has threatened to withhold start up grant money from charter schools in New York state if the schools do not comply with this interpretation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which defines the parameters of charter school lotteries, the article says.

The feds have informed Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of 20 charter schools in New York City, that they can no longer reserve seats for English-language learners after they became one of the first charter schools in the state to do so. Continuing to do so would stop the network from receiving $15 million in grants from the feds to expand the schools, says the article.

In an April 12th letter sent to Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, Eva Moskowitz, the chief executive officer of Success Academy Charter Schools, describes the threat as "a gun pointed to [their] head," calling the department's interpretation of the law as "both legally and morally wrong."

GothamSchools reports that the letters successfully convinced the feds to back off their threats for this year, but the schools would face the same dilemma during the next round of lotteries.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, wrote a scathing column in the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune, saying that the U.S. Department of Justice's move to prevent certain districts in Louisiana from participating in the state's school voucher program is equivalent to "[ripping] children out of their schools and [handcuffing] them to the failing schools they previously attended."

The Justice Department, which has ordered the state to stop giving vouchers to students in districts operating under desegregation orders, says that voucher distribution interferes with desegregation efforts in those districts.

Jindal, in his column, called on President Obama to order the agency to drop the lawsuit. If not, Jindal vows to "fight every step of the way."

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