Louisiana’s Voucher Program Is Making Segregation Worse, Justice Department Finds

Louisiana school districts with a long history of racial segregation are becoming more segregated because of the state’s voucher program, according to a motion filed by the Department of Justice this week.

In at least 13 districts still under federal monitoring because of continuing segregation, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) program to use public funds toward tuition for private schools is sending kids who had diversified the schools to those with more similar racial make-up, the DOJ explains in its filing. The state’s voucher program has been implemented amidst much controversy. A state court held in May that the funding mechanism for the voucher program violated the state Constitution, because it allocated funds budgeted for public education to private schools instead, rather than specifically budgeting funds for vouchers. But Jindal found funds for what is known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program elsewhere, and proceeded with implementation. Another court had temporarily suspended the voucher program over concerns it was interfering with desegregation, but it allowed the program to proceed while the desegregation challenge continued.

Thirty-four school districts in the state are still subject to federal oversight because racial divides have persisted since the U.S. Supreme Court held that state-imposed segregation was unconstitutional. In its filing, the Justice Department presented evidence that students who were the small minority in the school they were attending — blacks in primarily white schools and whites in primarily black schools — sought and received vouchers to leave the schools and attend more homogeneous schools instead, reversing desegregation progress.

Studies following the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal holding that separate is not equal have found that desegregation improves educational outcomes for black students in Louisiana and elsewhere, in part because of improvements in per-pupil funding, teacher quality, and access to resources. As some schools have re-segregated, particularly in inner cities, cities have seen spikes in violent crime. But moves to integrate schools have faltered. And some 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the Department of Education found that schools were still segregated by racial and economic lines.


States like Louisiana with school districts subject to federal oversight are tasked with assessing the impact educational changes will have on efforts to desegregate. DOJ argues that Louisiana fell short of its legal duty when it failed to even consider the impact that the voucher program would have on desegregation. While the Department of Justice was able to obtain some data on the impacts of school vouchers, it predicted that its findings greatly underestimate the degree of re-segregation, because they were not able to obtain full data from the state.

Just yesterday, marking the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary, Jindal lamented in an op-ed in Politico that we “place too much emphasis on our separateness,” and proclaimed on Meet the Press that education is the civil rights issue of our time. On education, he said, “Too many people are standing in the way. Teachers unions have been fighting against that. Just on Friday, the Department of Justice said they were going to go to court.” He never mentions that black and white students in his school remain “separated,” claiming instead that the Justice Department is trying to deprive students of a choice.

Several recent studies have found that voucher programs are an ineffective way to improve student performance, draining funds and diversity from public programs, without improving the performance of even those attending the voucher schools.