Advocates of school choice Wednesday hailed what they called a victory for voucher proponents in a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision reversed a lower court decision that required the state to provide federal officials with annual reports on Louisiana’s voucher students.
“Today’s decision is a clear victory for parents,” Ann Duplessis, president of the pro-voucher Louisiana Federation for Children, said in a prepared statement.
The latest ruling stems from a long-running dispute between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice over vouchers, which are state aid for low-income students to attend private and parochial schools.
U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle, of New Orleans, ruled in April 2014 that the state would have to provide federal officials with the names, addresses, grades, race and public school history for voucher students, and a list of those offered the aid but who declined.
Federal officials said the request was part of its bid to ensure the state did not violate a 1975 federal court ruling that banned action that supported segregated private schools.
Several pro-voucher groups, including the state branch of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, appealed Lemelle’s ruling.
The 2-1 decision reversed the district court decision. The opinion was written by 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones and joined by Judge Jerry E. Smith. Both are Houston jurists who were recommended to the appellate bench in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan. Dissenting was Judge Gregg Costa, who also sits in Houston and was recommended by President Barack Obama in 2014.
The majority wrote that the lower court decision exceeded the scope of its authority. Because the money goes to the student, rather than the institution, vouchers are outside the jurisdiction of laws aimed at desegregating public schools. “The order is reversed and the injunction is therefore dissolved,” the majority opinion states.
Whether the ruling will be appealed is unclear.
Louisiana’s voucher program, which began in 2008, was expanded statewide in 2012 under legislation pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Students have to attend public schools rated C, D or F, and meet low-income requirements to qualify for the state aid.
About 7,000 students rely on the vouchers at 119 private and parochial schools, and 87 percent of the recipients are minorities.
Critics of the federal action have repeatedly painted the action as a bid by the Obama administration to kill the voucher program.
Stacy Martin, Louisiana state director of BAEO, praised the ruling. “The appeals court stood on the side of low-income and working-class families so they can have the same educational opportunities as more affluent families already have — financial resources to send their child to the school of their choice,” Martin said in a prepared statement.
The decision is the latest twist in a spat that began in 2013 when the Justice Department filed legal papers that said the vouchers risked upsetting federal desegregation orders.
Jindal accused federal officials of trying to regulate Louisiana’s program to death.
Aside from the required reports, the issue was largely settled with Lemelle’s 2014 ruling, with both sides claiming victory.