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Federal Court Voids Intrusive Anti-Choice Order, Makes Me Smile

In the recent busy season, there hasn’t necessarily been a lot of different things to tell you about. But the coverage has been thick. And after all that — including everything from telling reformers to keep their chins up to unpacking ugly smear columns — little me is eager, practically desperate, to talk about good news and spread a little cheer.

Yesterday I ran across just such a story that made me smile. I first learned of the big judicial win for Louisiana kids from, of all places, the American Federation for Children:

“Today’s decision is a win for children, especially the more than 7,100 children who rely on the Louisiana Scholarship Program to attend a quality school of their parents’ choice,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. “The U.S. Department of Justice attempted to play politics and was caught red handed and reprimanded by this Court.”

Bingo. What exactly is the backstory? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Despicably, the U.S. Department of Justice had used a 40-year-old segregation rule to try to take away education options from poor kids. When that option was taken off the table nearly two years ago, the feds took the back-door route of seeking to use burdensome regulations to accomplish a similar end. Seriously?

As I joyfully pointed out back in 2013, when the first victory was achieved, two separate studies — located here and here — found absolutely no harm to the progress of integrating schools by race. In fact, one of the studies suggested that the choice program “appears to have brought greater integration to Louisiana’s public schools.”

These findings fit well within the context of the larger complex picture broken down in Benjamin Scafidi’s recent report on “The Integration Anomaly.” Bottom line? To the limited extent they have been studied, U.S. school choice programs tend to lead to more racial integration. Meanwhile, Scafidi argues for several key choice program design points to achieve the best results.

Still, the bigwigs from Washington, D.C., had successfully pushed for the power to poke their noses deep into the Louisiana program. I have to agree with school choice supporters that the feds apparently were looking for ways to kill this particular school choice opportunity for many low-income students.

A news article yesterday from the Advocate explains that under the 2014 district court ruling, Louisiana “would have to provide federal officials with the names, addresses, grades, race and public school history for voucher students, and a list of those offered the aid but who declined.”

Enter three judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel. They spoke loud and clear, explaining how federal officials overreached and the district court erred in allowing the onerous regulations to continue:

First, the voucher program’s potential impact on desegregation orders for public schools in separate federal desegregation cases is distinct from eliminating public funding for discriminatory private schools. Second, the voucher program aid is for students rather than private schools. Finally, even if the voucher program aids private schools, it is not being given to discriminatory private schools. The district court’s order exceeded the constitutional infirmity on which this case was predicated and is therefore void.

Rarely does a person in black robes decreeing in writing that something is “void” sound so appealing. But in the case of this week’s Court of Appeals ruling, I will continue to revel in the glorious exception.