The U.S. Department of Justice is attempting to block a portion of a school voucher program in Louisiana, arguing that vouchers issued in some districts "impeded the desegregation process."
The department filed a lawsuit on Saturday seeking a permanent injunction to stop the state from awarding vouchers to students who attend schools located in districts that are still under federal desegregation orders.
The voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, was created in New Orleans in 2008 and expanded to the rest of the state in 2012. It gives financial assistance to low-income families who want to transfer their students out of failing schools.
Of the 5,000 vouchers distributed last year, 91 percent went to minority students. The state is expected to issue another 8,000 vouchers for the coming school year.
The Justice Department's lawsuit claims that allowing students to leave failing schools for private schools upsets the racial balance that the desegregation laws were created to maintain.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a released statement that the federal filing is "shameful" and that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are trying to trap students in failing public schools.
"It's the latest example of government trying to tell parents that they know best," Jindal said. "This action highlights the fundamental disregard of the federal government for the rights of parents to make choices for their children."
Jindal said the voucher program is a "moral imperative" and that parents should be able to decide where their children attend school.
If the Justice Department's lawsuit is successful, 34 school systems could be affected for the 2014-15 school year.
The voucher system has been controversial since it was expanded to the entire state and has already had several lawsuits filed against it.
In May, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the state could not use funds dedicated to public education to pay for the vouchers. The court did not rule on the educational quality of the programs, however.
"Not only was the voucher program patently unconstitutional, but it placed children into schools without adequate oversight and with no assurance of quality instruction," said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan, in a released statement.