Over on the homepage, I have a piece about how the Justice Department appears to be going after states that are implementing vouchers or other school-choice reforms. The DOJ recently filed suit against Louisiana arguing that its voucher program – 90 percent of recipients of which are black – is harming desegregation efforts. The same government office is also rattling the sabers against Wisconsin, which also has an broad vouchers program, over a novel interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
State officials and education experts wonder if something more is on the agenda besides simple law enforcement, as both the DOJ and the Education Department have begun scrutinizing states (often led by Republican governors) implementing bold education reforms.
“They are trying to go after, it seems, the states with the largest potential marketplaces for private schools,” says Enlow. “Every day now, somebody from the Department of Education calls, b****es at you about some policy this, some policy that. No doubt about it that’s coming from the liberal establishment and mainly from the unions,” says a top state education official who asked to remain anonymous. The source also describes surprise visits by federal auditors to states with voucher programs.
Late last night, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department responded to an inquiry from last Friday defending the DOJ’s actions in the Louisiana suit and other cases. The spokeswoman noted that the DOJ is technically enforcing desegregation court orders that were in place before the states had even enacted their voucher programs. She also defended the agency’s specific actions in Louisiana:
The division always tries to works cooperatively with states and school districts to resolve complaints and concerns. We tried to work cooperatively with Louisiana but the state’s officials refused to provide the information required under the decree. When states or school districts do not cooperate, the division has no choice but to turn to the court to ensure compliance with the desegregation plan.
The division enforces a number of federal civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. When complaints are raised about public education programs, including voucher programs, the division investigates those complaints regardless of the political affiliation of the complainant or jurisdiction.