The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday its controversial lawsuit over Gov. Bobby Jindal's school voucher initiative could be resolved quickly now that Louisiana has agreed to provide key documents about a program that might have reversed desegregation gains in 13 school systems. Jindal called the feds' announcement a "PR stunt" and repeated his demand that they drop the suit altogether.
The two sides are set to meet in court Nov. 22 to discuss what the Justice Department calls two still-unresolved questions, in a case that has become a national flashpoint for debate over both private school vouchers and Jindal's political ambitions.
Justice's announcement came in an open letter from Peter Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who last week asked the department to reconsider its petition.
Officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, the state's voucher law lets low-income students in public schools with low scores attend participating private schools, mostly at taxpayer expense. In the current school year, about 8,000 students were given vouchers capped at about $8,500.
The Justice Department petition, filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in New Orleans, seeks to bar the state from automatically assigning vouchers next year to students in 34 school systems that are under long-standing school desegregation orders. That's about half the school systems in the state. The affected systems include Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes.
The desegregation orders try to ensure representative racial balance in public schools and typically include controls on student transfers. The Justice Department's petition required the state to provide information on voucher enrollment in the current year.