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September 25, 2013
Students in the Crossfire
The Attorney General argued that parental rights in education were not a fundamental human right in the Romeike asylum case, and now they are at it again – this time in Louisiana.
Louisiana parents want their children to receive a quality education. In fact, everyone in America will pay homage to this idea in their rhetoric, from the educational elites who run teachers unions to the most private of home schooling families. We all want to see the next generation receive a solid education, and no one wants this more than parents.
That’s why Louisiana launched a state program, piloted in New Orleans in 2008 and now involving about 8,000 students statewide, to offer private school vouchers in certain circumstances: the family’s income must be below 250% of the poverty line, and the local public school must have received a grade of C or below in its state accreditation review. This allows low-income students to escape the failing public schools of the most impoverished regions of the state.
(A study released on September 12 by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) claims that poverty is a major hindrance to student performance. The administration’s Race to the Top education program is failing, according to the report, because it doesn’t address, or even consider, the poverty issue. The federal government pushes states into the controversial and untested Common Core program while children in poverty still struggle to learn in failing public schools.)
Louisiana’s political leaders are doing something effective to help low-income students without any federal funding in this voucher program. So how does the federal government respond? The United States Justice Department filed suit on August 22 in federal district court to halt the program. Why? The DOJ claims the Louisiana program “frustrates and impedes the desegregation process” in the public schools.
Under a 1975 federal desegregation ruling, counties must get federal court approval before making any changes that can hinder integration. At least 22 of the 34 counties receiving voucher assistance this year (roughly 600 voucher-receiving students) are still under that court order, and would be affected by the DOJ’s suit. According to the DOJ’s petition, the law’s provision for minority students to leave failing schools decreases the minority representation in those schools – causing integration efforts to take a statistical step backwards.
The state points out that the voucher program helps minorities by allowing more of them to escape the failing schools; roughly 90% of voucher recipients are African-American. And the impact on the racial make-up of the public schools is minimal – a shift of less than 1%. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush suggest that the DOJ’s opposition may be fueled by its political partnership with teachers unions, not a concern for students. Blocking the Louisiana law forces low-income, predominantly African-American students back into the public schools that fund the unions.
Similar voucher programs have proven successful in other U.S. locations, including Washington, D.C. The DOJ’s suit attacks a successful attempt to empower parents and provide a solid education for students.
It is clear. The United States government cares about protecting the turf of its political allies rather than doing what’s best for children. Parental choice in education is clearly good for the children in Louisiana but that factor is not determinative to our highly politicized Justice Department.
The central purpose of the Parental Rights Amendment is to permanently settle the question: Who speaks first for children—parents or government?
As it relates to school vouchers, it is important to understand what the proposed Parental Rights Amendment will and will not accomplish. The right to education funding is known in legal theory as a “positive right”—something that the government must provide for you. The right of parents to make decisions for their children is an example of a “negative right”—something the government cannot take away from you.
The PRA deals only with “negative rights” by ensuring that the government cannot infringe your decision-making (including in the area of education). Any attempt to infringe your rights forces the government to meet the “strict scrutiny” standard of review. (This is done, for instance, by demonstrating that the government is taking the only available means to prevent child abuse or neglect.)
The PRA will not force the government to fund any form of education—public or private. But it declares that the government can never use its power to take away our decision-making ability carte blanche. If an individual parent abuses his authority, he can be restricted. But the government cannot enact laws that treat us all like child abusers by presuming that it should make decisions for every child.
Louisiana should have the ability to manage its own education system to best serve children. It is no surprise that the state believes that parental choice is a good basis for helping children. And sadly, it is no surprise that our federal government feels compelled to advance the interests of a “government-first” attitude that leaves states, parents, and most importantly children in a compromised position.
Parents, not government, really do know what is best for children.
Together we can protect parental rights and our children from a government bent on complete education control.
Director of Communications & Research
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