No justice for children
Where is the "justice" from the U.S. Department of Justice? Especially where children are concerned?
Why is the Justice Department so set on depriving certain children in Louisiana of the opportunity to get a decent education?
There is no argument: Equal educational opportunity is essential—not only as a matter of fairness but as an integral part of the long-term viability of our society.
I know of no one who thinks that schools with run-down facilities, overwhelmed administrators, dispirited faculty and underserved student populations are a good idea, no matter the racial balance on campus.
The question that begs to be answered is whether the long and tortured legal battle the Department of Justice has waged for more than half a century has done anything to improve schools or educational outcomes for minority children.
And what about desegregation?
Has the federal government's decades-long focus on schools achieved the goal of a desegregated society? In Baton Rouge, the effort to desegregate schools has not succeeded.
Despite a half-century of lawsuits, some public systems (like East Baton Rouge) have become again as segregated as ever, with more than 80% minority student populations. Many individual schools have almost 100% minority populations. Something isn't working.
The irony of this failed education policy (much like welfare policy that, rather than reducing poverty, helped create generations of welfare-dependent families) is that a government-run, public school monopoly continues to trap many minority students in poorly run, failing schools in our state—denying them the very equal educational opportunities they deserve and the Justice Department so zealously seeks.
I find it bizarre that, given the plain facts, President Barack Obama's Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block the use of vouchers in Louisiana and deny minority parents a real opportunity to choose the equal education they have so desperately desired for decades. Parents whose children remain trapped in failing schools must feel a special sting—not only because of Obama's rhetoric about equal opportunity but because they can see the goal line so close at hand. But then, the president is good at moving goalposts.
There are about 8,000 children who are now using vouchers in Louisiana, and more than 90% are minority students. Their parents, generally of lower income, chose to move them from schools graded C, D or F by the state to schools where they have a better chance of succeeding academically. If the Justice Department succeeds in blocking voucher access to students in systems under a desegregation order, who wins? Not the children. Not their parents. Not anyone who has a stake in Louisiana's future.
This litigious behavior, sad to say, is nothing new for the Justice Department. Back in the '90s, when charter schools were just beginning in Louisiana, East Baton Rouge Parish was under a more than 40-year-old desegregation order. Attorney Franz Marshall was in charge of the Justice Department's desegregation effort here.
I was part of a group that had opened the Children's Charter School (now 15 years old), and we proposed opening a new United Charter School at Bon Marche Mall (now Bon Carré). It would be K-8 and would expand to K-12 over five years. It would serve the very needy population of "mall city" and provide a school they could walk to. The neighborhood loved the idea, and the EBR school board and superintendent were supportive. But Franz Marshall and the feds said no.
We thought, You must be kidding. But he was all too serious. We told him minority parents in the area "want this school." Marshall looked at us and said, "I don't care what the parents want; I only care about the law."
Honest, that's what he said.
When this comment appeared in a national paper, I was called to Washington to testify before Congress that he had, in fact, used those words.
And that's exactly why Washington should stay out of local schools. The feds are out of touch and out of their minds, doing more harm than good—and hurting children in the process.
When the original deseg suits were filed, it was to right a wrong. Everybody gets that. But this latest collateral attack on voucher schools perpetuates another wrong.
The federal government is stuck in the past and has lost its way on issues of educational opportunity, and this latest lawsuit to stop vouchers proves the point once again.
This is crazy. This is not justice, not for children or anyone else. The president and the Department of Justice should drop the lawsuit now and give these kids a chance.
Many others have spoken out on the federal voucher lawsuit. Here are a few:
"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. Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school."
—Gov. Bobby Jindal
"As usual Washington, D.C., doesn't know what it's doing. Scholarships serve students that need help the most and are trapped. Their position is shameful."
—Chas Roemer, president, BESE
"Louisiana worked hard to give more school options to students and now the DOJ wants to take them away. This is wrong!"
—Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
"President Obama's assault on educational options is unprecedented and directly impacts low-income families who have the right to high-quality educational options. We remain committed to fighting for children and ensuring those trapped in failing schools are not left behind."
—Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children and board chair for Democrats for Education Reform
"You have to try to figure out at the moment in history that you're living through, what is the primary issue that has to be fought to ensure we have justice? The Department of Justice, in this particular instance, is on the wrong side of history in terms of what battles need to be fought."
—Howard Fuller, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options
But not all folks agree. We could count on the teachers union representative to support the Justice Department in stopping any kind of school choice to protect their adult members in the public school monopoly. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan told The Advocate, "It's not necessarily a program that is just helping African-American children. There's logic as far as the feds getting into the case."
Say what? Steve, nine out of 10 students using the program are black.
Help fulfill "Trevor's Wish"
The week of Sept. 1-7 has officially been designated "Trevor's Wish—help feed the hungry week" by Mayor Kip Holden. We are all being invited to participate in this communitywide food drive in partnership with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to honor Trevor Sims, a 10-year-old with terminal cancer. You can find out more about Trevor and how you can help at the food bank's website (brfoodbank.org). There are many ways to help fulfill "Trevor's Wish" to feed the hungry in our community. Thanks for your help.
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