Chicago Tribune: Dennis Byrne
September 02, 2013
This is bizarre: President Barack Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Department is suing Louisiana to force some kids to stay in their failing public schools.
More specifically, the department wants to stop the state from issuing vouchers to parents who would transfer their children to better private schools because it upsets the racial balance of the failing schools.
Yet more specifically, freeing children from the plantation of rotten schools must not happen because it “impedes the desegregation process,” Holder’s department said in a filing. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students in 34 school systems would be kept in mediocre or bad schools unless a federal judge approved the transfers if Holder’s petition is granted.
Under a statewide voucher measure called the Louisiana Scholarship Program some 5,000 low-income students in so-called C, D or F schools last school year received vouchers to attend better-performing, state-approved private schools. Louisiana Department of Education figures show that last year 86 percent of vouchered students came from D or F schools and 91 percent were minority children.
Only blind ideologues like those working for Obama and Holder are unable to see the irony of denying minorities an opportunity because racial head counts must come first.
It is especially ironic when Americans were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington speech in which he declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Not if the Obama administration has anything to say about it. It’s not as if the program were overtly racist, allowing only white students to use the vouchers to escape the troubled schools. Black students can too. But if too many white students flee … well, there’ll be none of that. As the department noted, five white students in Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish transferred out, “reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.”
Maybe Justice Department social engineers can come up with a plan that would block white transfers, allowing black students first crack at the vouchers to level the playing field.
Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options that supports vouchers, feels the scheme has lost sight of the larger picture. “I don’t think our ultimate end is just to have racially integrated schools,” he said. “I think our ultimate aim is to have quality schools.”
That’s heresy for those stuck in a four-decades-old and very different world. In a statement, Campbell addressed such obsolete thinking: “We are fully aware of Louisiana’s ugly and racist history of working to both undermine and circumvent early desegregation efforts. There is no question that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the state routinely found ways to help ensure that white children would not have to attend racially integrated schools — including funneling public funds to new, all-white private schools. These acts and many like them were both shameful and appalling and set the stage for important interventions by the United States government.
“Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to equate the current scholarship program that provides the only avenue for low-income children to escape failing schools to past efforts that supported and encouraged ‘white flight’ 40 years ago.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal chimed in. “After generations of being denied a choice, parents finally can choose a school for their child, but now the federal government is stepping in to prevent parents from exercising this right. Shame on them. Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school.”
There’s one more irony to the department’s efforts to squelch a lifetime opportunity for minority children: It is the work of a black president and a black attorney general. And it denies to many the “economic justice” that Obama last week said was the “unfinished business” of the civil rights battle.
Maybe Obama and Holder see political advantage in this by appealing to the president’s base of minority voters. Even if it works to the base’s disadvantage.
Dennis Byrne, a Chicago writer, blogs in The Barbershop in chicagonow.com/byrne.