Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Advocate editorial gets its facts wrong

In an otherwise spot-on piece, The Advocate's editorial board leaped over the false equivalency cliff that is the bane of modern journalism. The substance of the editorial tracks a flaw in the logic of Gov. Jindal's conservative allies that goes something like this:

1. Conservatives generally favor literal, originalist readings of the constitution.

2. Gov. Jindal crafted a privatization scheme that diverts funds dedicated to the Minimum Foundation Program to a hodgepodge of nonpublic schools, private course providers, online schools and others.

3. A state court ruled that the Louisiana Constitution specifically reserves MFP funds for public schools.

4. Conservatives now express outrage that a district court judge read the constitution, applied it literally to Gov. Jindal's law, and found the law lacking. The complaint of Jindal's allies is that the judge did not bend the constitution to fit their goals.

The Advocate's editorial correctly points out that the MFP is "not just another pot of money. And the constitutional issues raised deserve more than dismissal, particularly from quarters where respect for strict construction generally rules."

But after spanking Jindal and company, The Advocate felt it necessary to admonish the teacher union that brought the case to court in the first place, saying that union leaders "are also guilty of ignoring the legal issues raised by the wording of the state constitution."

That's the false equivalency: if Jindal is wrong, the union must be found in the wrong as well. The editorial board has now criticized both sides, and can safely claim that it is impartial.

Except in this case, it is more than the equivalency that is false. The  Advocate has its facts wrong, too.
It was the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that brought the case to court in the first place. Our argument was that Jindal's scheme improperly and unconstitutionally diverted dedicated funds to nonpublic education. That is more than adequately demonstrated here, here, and here.

We are at a loss to understand what the editorial board meant when it inserted the sentence about union leaders "ignoring the legal issues raised by the wording of the state constitution." We were very aware of those issues when we filed the suit.

This union was of the opinion that Jindal's agenda included very bad policies. We had hoped that those policy issues would be the subjects of debate in the legislature, and that we would have opportunities to present better options.

But the methods chosen by the governor to steamroll his agenda through the legislature made it impossible to debate the policies on their merits. In adopting those methods, the governor chose to ignore the constitution.

We can hope that once constitutional issues are finally resolved, the legislature will revisit those policies in a full, robust and open debate.

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