BATON ROUGE, La. -- About 8000 Louisiana students are attending private or parochial schools through a state voucher program.
It gives children from low-income families in poor performing schools the opportunity to attend a better school.
Former New Orleans state Sen. Ann Duplessis sponsored the original voucher legislation in 2008. She is now president of the Louisiana Federation for Children.
"The legislation is doing exactly what it was intended to do, and that was to take kids out of failing environments, out of depressed environments, and giving parents an opportunity to choose what works best for their children," said Duplessis.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Louisiana to stop distributing vouchers in any district that remains under a desegregation order. That includes Plaquemines, St. John and St. Tammany parishes in the New Orleans area.
Tuesday, the DOJ indicated the state has agreed to provide information that will help resolve questions about whether court approval is needed for the voucher program.
In a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a deputy assistant attorney general wrote, "it is only regrettable that the department had to resort to court involvement in this case in order to obtain it."
Governor Bobby Jindal shot back saying, "The (Obama) administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist."
The latest turn in the case come as four families with students on voucher scholarships filed a motion to intervene in support of the program.
"The children who are in the intended beneficiaries of the desegregation decrees are receiving a high quality education for the first time in their lives," said Clint Bolick, a top attorney for the Goldwater Institute which filed suit on behalf of the families. "The private schools participating in this program are required to be non-discriminatory. So, that should simply end the Justice Department's motion."
"We don't want schools to fear participating because this would impact their ability going forward or we don't want parents to hesitate about participating because of the threat of this lawsuit out there," said Eric Lewis, Louisiana Director for the Black Alliance For Educational Options.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the state's largest teachers' organization, said the voucher program needs better oversight by federal monitors.
"A recent release of state testing results revealed the Louisiana students attending private schools through Governor Jindal’s school voucher program perform a whopping 30 points below average," said LFT President Steve Monaghan. "Only 40 percent of these students leave the year performing at or above grade level."
The state and DOJ are now expected to meet a judge in Federal Court on Oct. 22 to discuss unresolved issues with the voucher program.