WASHINGTON (AP) - A court battle with Louisiana over the state's school voucher program may be nearing an end, the Justice Department said Tuesday. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the department said the state has agreed to provide information to the federal government on the program. The Obama administration says the voucher initiative has hurt desegregation efforts.
According to the federal government, Louisiana had refused to provide data about the students who were benefiting from the voucher program and an analysis of how the program changed the racial composition of the affected schools.
On Friday, the U.S. District Court in New Orleans ordered Louisiana to undertake an analysis of the voucher program and provide it to the federal government by Nov. 7.
"This represents a significant breakthrough," the Justice Department said in its letter to Boehner. "Louisiana agreed to provide information on the voucher program that the department had originally requested in May 2013 and that the state had, up until now, largely withheld." In August, the department sued Louisiana to stop the state from distributing school vouchers in any district that remains under a desegregation court order.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are fighting an effort that helps students from low-income families attend better schools. Jindal, a Republican considering a 2016 presidential bid, said Obama and Holder are denying students in his state the same opportunities their own children enjoy.
About 8,000 Louisiana students are attending private or parochial schools through the voucher program. The program allows children from low-income families in some school districts to use public money to attend private schools. But the program runs up against decades-old desegregation efforts. Louisiana has 70 school districts, and 34 remain under desegregation court orders.
The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders.
In court papers, the department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to almost 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and that many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process. The department cited the example of an elementary school losing five white students because of the voucher program, reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.