Gov. Bobby Jindal may call the lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama's administration against the state's voucher program "cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more," but he's got to love the big guy for it. Had the U.S. Justice Department not intervened, Jindal's already-embattled scholarship program may have shriveled and faded in years to come, under funding pressure from the Legislature and legal challenges from school boards and teacher unions. Instead, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder snatched it from oblivion with the high-profile lawsuit that the governor is turning into a higher-profile political issue.
State courts already had limited the future of vouchers in Louisiana with rulings that barred the use of public education dollars through the Minimum Foundation Program. Unable to get into the MFP piggy bank, Jindal had to scrape together $40 million in this budget to fund private school vouchers for 8,000 students, or about 1 percent of 700,000 public school students. Given those pressures, prospects for the future growth of the program were limited, as was its political value to Jindal, until the feds' legal threat arose.
How great an actual threat federal action poses is questionable. The Justice Department seeks to block only vouchers for 2014-15 that would negatively affect the racial balance in 22 school districts under desegregation orders. With the vast majority of vouchers going to African-American children in minority schools graded D or F, the feds could point to only a few instances of white children getting vouchers to leave majority black schools.