Outrage grows over lawsuit involving school vouchers - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Outrage grows over lawsuit involving school vouchers

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Amite, La. -- Students are in the early days of a new school year across the state, but a storm is intensifying over education in Louisiana.

At issue is a lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department recently filed to block the state from issuing school vouchers in some school districts that remain under federal desegregation orders, until there is authorization from federal court. The DOJ believes the awarding of vouchers in some school districts across Louisiana undermines the decades-old desegregation process.

Supporters of vouchers are raising their voices.

"It is unheard of and offensive to believe that the very laws that were created to help our children get out of depressed and failing situations are now hurting our kids," said former state Senator Ann Duplessis during a news conference called by the Black Alliance for Educational Options in Amite, in Tangipahoa Parish.

Mitzi Crain-Dillon said her daughter and son use vouchers to attend Northlake Christian School in St. Tammany Parish.

"They said that, you know, they feel like they're more challenged, you know, and it's just overall excellent for them," she said.

"Many of the same people who would argue that we should not give poor parents this choice because it takes money from the [public school] system... when you ask them where do your kids go to school, you get a whole different argument," said Howard Fuller of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, known as BAEO.

Duplessis said the ongoing failure of public schools to educate thousands of children shows up in the crime statistics. "None of us are safe. My father was a Baptist minister, my father was shot seven times 30 years ago by two young kids who had no thought of a future," she stated.

Language in the DOJ's court filing points to the Independence Elementary School in Tangipahoa Parish. It said the school enrolled a student body that was 61.5 percent black for the 2011-2012 school year. But when it lost five white students as a result of vouchers and increased its black student percentage away from the district-wide black student percentage, DOJ claims, that reinforced the racial identity of the campus as a black school.

Teachers unions have fought against school vouchers, rallying at the state capitol and fighting in court. They maintain that vouchers which allow parents to use public tax dollars to pay for private schooling hurt resources for public schools.

"We want to make sure we have all the resources. We believe that children should go to schools in their neighborhoods. We believe there should be smaller class sizes," said Meladie Munch of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers.

The state Supreme Court eventually ruled that the way the state was funding vouchers was unconstitutional. And since the expansion of the state's voucher program, there have been complaints that some of the participating schools are seriously deficient when it comes to resources and the education of students.

Voucher supporters do not deny that there have been rough spots. "We have some schools that are not good schools and in my opinion we need to have a strong accountability system," said Dr. Fuller.

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