Magazine article Church & State

Sordid History: The Ugly Past of Southern Voucher Plans

Magazine article Church & State

Sordid History: The Ugly Past of Southern Voucher Plans

Article excerpt

The U.S. Justice Department recently announced that it is suing the state of Louisiana over the state's voucher plan. The scheme, it seems, was implemented across the state even though many Louisiana public schools are operating under federal court rulings requiring racial desegregation.

This legal action has dredged up a dirty little secret that voucher advocates would likely prefer had remained buried: Vouchers were first proposed in the South to prop up segregationist private academies. They were a way to get around court-ordered racial integration of public schools.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, legislators in several Southern states pledged "massive resistance" to integration. Their plan was extreme. Some states passed laws allowing the governor to close public schools or relaxed mandatory school-attendance laws.

In addition, several states sought to extend tax support to parents who wished to avoid racially integrated public schools by sending their children to all-white private academies. They weren't called vouchers back then, but that's what they were.

Federal courts put a stop to those schemes. Incredibly, 50 years later voucher plans are often pitched as a way to help minority families. Yet minority families would not need the dubious "help" of a private school if so many states had not destabilized public education by defunding it and even shutting down schools. …

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