An AP News Analysis
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — By filing a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal's school voucher program, the Justice Department has handed Louisiana's Republican governor a national, yet local issue to boost his political ambitions.
It's the perfect talking point for Jindal on national TV talk shows and on the editorial pages of national newspapers as he works to keep up his profile for what appears to be a possible 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
But this time, Jindal doesn't have to take heat for meddling in issues that don't affect Louisiana.
Instead, Democrat President Barack Obama's administration has come to his home turf, so Jindal can be engaged in his home state while also using the issue as a springboard for national attention.
The lawsuit also may coalesce support from conservatives for a Republican leader who can frame the action as big-government, Democrat meddling in local affairs.
The Justice Department is asking a federal judge in New Orleans to bar the state from awarding future school vouchers to students who otherwise would attend public schools under federal desegregation orders, at least until the state gets approval from the federal judge overseeing school district desegregation cases.
Louisiana has 34 school districts under federal desegregation orders that seek equal treatment and funding for all students in areas where there was evidence of racial discrimination decades ago. Vouchers have been given to students in 22 of those districts, according to the Justice Department's lawsuit.
The Obama administration argues that the vouchers have harmed the desegregation progress in at least 13 districts so far, skewing racial demographics of schools. The lawsuit charges the situation could worsen as the Jindal-backed, state-funded voucher program expands.
"The state's continued issuance of vouchers without proper regard for existing district desegregation orders or consent from appropriate federal courts impedes these school districts' desegregation efforts, and deprives the students of their right to a desegregated educational experience," the lawsuit says.
Jindal calls the lawsuit an attempt by Attorney General Eric Holder to force children from low-income families back into failing schools to appease public school teacher unions that oppose vouchers as siphoning dollars from their schools.
"It's yet another example of the Obama administration carrying the water of their government union allies at the expense of Louisiana parents and their children who are only seeking an opportunity to achieve the American dream," Jindal said in a recent statement.
The lawsuit has been an attention-grabbing case for Jindal.
The governor has slammed the Obama administration about the lawsuit on Fox News shows, on NBC's "Meet the Press," on the Washington Post editorial page and in a speech in Florida to the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
He's said the lawsuit would deny equal opportunities in education to Louisiana's children, and he's touted the voucher program he pushed to create, which is one of the largest in the nation.
"This happens when you get a federal government so big, so intrusive, so powerful. This happens when you've got a president who trusts the government more than he trusts the American people to live their lives," Jindal said in his Florida speech.
Taxpayer-financed tuition through Louisiana's voucher program is available to students from low- to moderate-income families who otherwise would attend public schools graded C, D or F — signifying mediocrity or failing status in the state's academic performance rating system.
About 8,000 students are attending private or parochial schools in the current school year through the voucher program, costing the state an estimated $45 million this budget year.
"Despite the fact that 90 percent of students in the program are minorities and 100 percent of students are from low-income families, the president and attorney general are trying to deny equal opportunity to these children by using rules that were set up to prevent discrimination. It's backwards and immoral," the governor said.
Whether Jindal is interested in becoming a presidential candidate or just continuing in a national role beyond his term as governor, the Obama administration may have handed him a tailor-made point of outrage to rally Republican support.