On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it is suing to block the Louisiana school voucher program. The Louisiana program provides mostly poor, minority children with access to private schools. The DOJ claims the voucher program may be in violation of desegregation orders, essentially claiming that the voucher program is hurting desegregation efforts. This is an empirical claim, but the claim is false.
Using student-level data, Anna Egalite and Jonathan Mills, Doctoral Academy fellows at the University of Arkansas, examined the impact of each student's “switch” on the racial composition of each school in a recent article in Education Next. They concluded:
Our analysis of the Louisiana Scholarship Program reveals that the vouchers used by the subset of recipients for whom information is available have supported public-school desegregation efforts. By leaving schools in which their racial group was overrepresented relative to the surrounding communities, voucher users have improved integration in Louisiana public schools....Based on this evidence, we conclude that the LSP is unlikely to have harmed desegregation efforts in Louisiana. To the contrary, the statewide school voucher program appears to have brought greater integration to Louisiana’s public schools.
In response to the DOJ lawsuit, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal remarked, the “Department of Justice is attempting to use old rules designed to prevent discrimination against minority children to try and keep these children trapped in failing schools.” Egalite's and Mills' research demonstrates that those “old rules” most likely are not being violated, because the data actually show that the voucher program is improving racial integration.