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Fight Over Louisiana Voucher Program Continues

The skirmishing continues in the battle between Louisiana and the federal government over the state's private school voucher program.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday wrote a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (and other House Republican leaders who had questioned the department's actions) to try to clear up misconceptions about the effort and to report what it called a "major step forward" in that Louisiana had agreed to provide information that it had been withholding.

"To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana's school voucher program nor seeking to revoke vouchers from any students," Peter J. Kadzik, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said in the letter to Boehner. "When properly run, state and local voucher programs need not conflict with legal requirements to desegregate schools."

But the department needed the involvement of the federal district court in New Orleans to ensure Louisiana provides data about participation in the voucher program by students in school systems still under court-supervised desegregation plans, it said. And the department wants to ensure that the implementation of the vouchers is in compliance with desegregation orders, and it says that is why it filed its Aug. 22 motion in the long-running suit known as Brumfield v. Louisiana. (My Education Week story on the controversy is here.)

The department's letter called the state's provision of information "a significant breakthrough" in the dispute, which prompted an Associated Press story to that effect. But the letter also notes that the federal court has called for briefing on the more substantive issues in the fight, such as whether a statewide desegregation order applies to the voucher program.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who has carried on a very public attack on the Justice Department's efforts regarding the voucher program, blasted the letter to Boehner as a "PR stunt."

"While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration's real motive still stands—forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school," the governor said in a statement.

He renewed his demand that the Justice Department drop its legal efforts.

The next court hearing in New Orleans in the case is Nov. 13.

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