Before Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department move forward with a lawsuit to block vouchers for thousands of low-income students trapped in failing Louisiana public schools, he ought to speak to parents whose children benefit from the statewide voucher measure called the Louisiana Scholarship Program.
One of those parents is Lakisha Fuselier. Fuselier is a single mother of four. Her 8-year-old son, Albert, is a part of the voucher program. A spokeswoman in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office emailed me her story, which first appeared in The Daily Advertiser last December. “Lakisha Fuselier wanted to do something to help her son, Albert. He was struggling in public school classes,” the Daily Advertiser writes. “His academic problems were compounded by a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ... She knew he needed individual attention, something he was not getting in public school.”
In response to my request, Ms. Fuselier provided the following statement to the governor’s office: “When I heard about this program, I jumped on the chance to try something new for my son. I see the difference it has made in him from an academic standpoint and as an individual. He loves school now and is more outgoing. I hope to be able to get my other kids in the program because I know that it works.”
Holder’s stated reason for suing to eliminate the voucher program in Louisiana is that it “impedes the desegregation process.” The government argues that allowing parents to transfer their children out of failing Louisiana schools would upset the racial balance of schools in districts still under federal desegregation orders. “There’s no denying the state’s racist history of school segregation or its ugly efforts ... to undermine desegregation orders ...,” writes the Washington Post. “... But the situation today bears no resemblance to those terrible days. Since most of the students using vouchers are black, it is, as State Education Superintendent John White pointed out ... ‘a little ridiculous’ to argue that the departure of mostly black students to voucher schools would make their home school systems less white.”
In a recent appearance on “Meet the Press,” Gov. Jindal said, “There are too many kids in this country today trapped in poor neighborhoods with poor, failing schools. In Louisiana, we’re doing something about it.” Is Holder really saying he’d rather they didn’t?
The president and Mrs. Obama can provide private schooling for their daughters. The president’s attorney general wants to deny the same to Louisianians whose only hope out of poverty is a decent education. Is that fair? Is it just?
The Washington Post editorialized against the administration’s lawsuit, calling it “bewildering, if not downright perverse ... to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due.”
Next to a right to life, the most important right is a good education. Without it, low-income children are denied the American Dream. It is the ultimate civil rights issue.
The racial makeup of a school that fails to provide quality education shouldn’t matter. What difference does it make if a child fails in an all-black school or an integrated one? An “F’ is an “F.”
According to The Weekly Standard, more people have applied for vouchers in Louisiana than are available: 10,000 in 2012, with only 5,000 receiving them, and 12,000 this year, with 8,000 awarded by lottery. The magazine also notes that the voucher movement is spreading:
“According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 23 states and the District of Columbia have a total of 48 voucher and tax-credit programs designed to help poor kids in bad schools get out ...”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to end the school choice program in D.C., but reversed himself in the face of a public outcry. Minority parents should amplify that outcry in Louisiana and across the country.
If Republicans are smart, they will make school choice their issue and reclaim their history of being for civil rights before the Democrats commandeered it. In a cruel reversal of what happened in the 1960s, Democrats now appear to stand in the schoolhouse door, trying to keep poor children out.
Cal Thomas is a political commentator and columnist.