Senator Tim Scott and Colleagues Urge Federal Government to Allow Children to Get a Better Education

Oct 24, 2013 Issues: Education
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) was joined by 29 other senators in a call for Attorney General Eric Holder to explain why the Department of Justice has sued to trap needy children in failing public schools based on skin color alone.
 
“Regardless of race or background, every child deserves the opportunity to succeed,” Scott said. “I know firsthand the importance of empowering parents to provide their children with the best education possible. Parents should be able to choose a school based on the opportunity it provides. That flexibility is good for kids across the board.”
 
The Louisiana Scholarship Program, launched three years after Hurricane Katrina, grants poor children the opportunity to escape failing public schools and attend a different school chosen by their parents. Last year, the program helped over 5,700 needy children (91 percent of whom are minorities) and raised test scores -- all while saving taxpayers $18 million dollars.
 
The Department of Justice is suing to return 570 of these children tofailing schools, claiming that a school’s racial make-up is more important than providing opportunities for students. For example, the Department of Justice argues that six African-American children should be returned to a failing elementary school, to change the school from 29.2 percent to 30.1 percent African-American.
 
Last month, Senator Scott joined Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to call on the Obama administration to halt the lawsuit and allow students the greatest chance to succeed.
 
The text of the Senators’ letter is included below.
 
 
October 24, 2013
 
The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue. NW
Washington, DC  20530-0001
 
Dear Attorney General Holder:
 
On August 22, 2013, the Department of Justice filed a petition with the federal district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in the case of United States v. William J. Dodd, Civ. A. No. 71-1316 (E.D. La.). The petition asks the court to block 570 needy children from escaping failing public schools, solely on the basis of the children’s skin color. We are deeply concerned by the Justice Department’s petition. Specifically, we are concerned that the Department of Justice’s decision to prevent these needy children from obtaining a valuable education is not consistent with the pursuit of justice, but instead may be the result of improper, partisan motives.
 
In 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, New Orleans launched the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The program allowed poor students in failing schools to obtain a scholarship to attend a private school preapproved by the State. In 2012, Louisiana expanded the program statewide. 91 percent of scholarship children were minorities—86 percent African-American and 5 percent from other minority groups. Because the average scholarship equaled $4,500, some $3,000 less than the amount Louisiana’s public schools spend per child, the program saved Louisiana taxpayers $18 million in 2012 alone.
 
The program has been a remarkable success. Test scores have risen among scholarship students. More importantly, the program is lauded by those in the best position to determine what is best for Louisiana’s children: their parents. One mother wrote that at her son’s public school, the teacher “told me that she could not give him the attention and time he needed”; “my son could not hold a pencil or crayon and was treated by teachers and students alike as an outcast,” and “was labeled as disabled.” At his new scholarship school, “he has made tremendous progress and can now write his own name,” is “thriving,” and is “excited to work on [his] homework at night.” Another mother attested that she sought a scholarship for her six year-old son for one simple reason: “So he won’t be a statistic.” She explained that just a few months earlier, she laid her nephew to rest, and at the funeral could not help but ask, “If he would’ve had the same opportunity like my son has, who knows what he would have become?”
 
It seems to us that a program that rescues needy children from failing schools, gives families a chance to break the cycle of poverty and violence, and saves taxpayers millions of dollars each year is one that should be lauded by the federal government. Instead, the Justice Department is working to sabotage it. Shockingly, the Justice Department is doing so by targeting a small group of children based solely on the color of their skin.
 
During the days of Jim Crow, some Louisiana school districts were placed under desegregation orders. The Justice Department argues that allowing a few students to escape their failing schools will change the racial composition in these covered school districts. For example, the Justice Department asks the court to block six needy African-American students from escaping their failing school, because their departure would change the school’s racial make-up from 30.1 percent to 29.2 percent African-American. Similarly, the Justice Department argues that the desegregation orders may be violated if five poor white students obtain a better education, because the school would go from 29.6 percent to 28.9 percent white. In each case, the Justice Department is targeting the children solely on the basis of their skin color: 
 
If the six African-American children were white, and the five white children were African-American, the Justice Department would not be trying to prevent them from receiving a good education. These children are not statistics. They are young kids, and every one of them deserves a safe, high-quality school and a chance at a bright future.
 
Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education has called it “ironic” that the Justice Department is taking the desegregation orders that were designed to provide African-American children with access to the best schools and using them to trap African-American children in failing schools based solely on their skin color. We agree with the Washington Post’s editorial board: “we think it is appalling.”
 
Congress is vested with oversight of the Justice Department in order to ensure political considerations do not trump the pursuit of justice and to verify that the Justice Department is making wise use of scarce taxpayer dollars. In our oversight capacity, we are requesting that you submit answers to the below questions as soon as possible, but no later than November 6, 2013. We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
 
1.    In 2012, 5,766 needy children won the opportunity to escape a failing school through Louisiana’s Scholarship Program. The Justice Department’s petition seeks to block 570 of those children from obtaining a meaningful education, based solely on the color of their skin. Some children, the petition argued, should be trapped in failing schools because they are African-American; others because they are white. How is this consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection regardless of race?
 
2.    Justice Department officials have, on more than one occasion, appeared before Congress and testified that the Department’s resources are stretched thin, and prosecutors sometimes have to make decisions on how best to deploy those resources. Why is this litigation a wise use of scarce taxpayer dollars?
 
3.    The Justice Department argues in its petition that the loss of six black children from Cecilia primary school—which amounts to less than one percent of the student body—should be blocked. Imagine those six black children left Cecilia primary school for a reason other than the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Imagine that their parents’ found more lucrative jobs and were able to afford private school out of their own pockets.
a.    Would the Justice Department have the legal authority to block these children from leaving Cecilia school in order to preserve the “racial balance” between the school and parish?
b.    Would the Justice Department have the legal authority to ask the court to bus in six other African-American children into the failing school to restore its “racial balance”?
 
4.    The two examples the Justice Department cites in its petition, Cecilia primary school and Independence primary school, involve miniscule changes to the student population, 6 students (less than one percent of the student body) and 5 students (just over one percent of the student body). Is any change too small? What if only one black student received a scholarship from Cecilia? Would the Justice Department have the authority to block that student from a better school?
 
5.    Did anyone in the Justice Department take any account of politics or have any conversations concerning politics, including the positions of teachers unions, in deciding to file its petition?
 
Sincerely,