Friday, December 14, 2012

The real shame in Jindal's Washington speech

Governor Bobby Jindal says the lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and others to challenge the constitutionality of his voucher scheme is “shameful.” But what’s really a shame is the way our governor disdained the rule of law and readily available research in his crusade to privatize public education.

Jindal spoke on Tuesday at a Washington, D.C. meeting of the right-wing Brookings Institution, which convened that day to praise the state’s Recovery School District for becoming what Brookings claims is the best in the nation in terms of school choice.

That claim is debatable: RSD has some of the lowest achievement scores in the state, many parents complain that they can’t enroll their children in New Orleans’ high-achieving charter schools, and the district’s record with children with exceptionalities is spotty.

Jindal did not limit his remarks to the RSD, however. As Times-Picayune Washington correspondent Bruce Alpert reports here, the governor took advantage of the national forum to defend his voucher plan and bash teacher unions for pointing out its legal flaws.

That the governor would change the subject from choice in the RSD to his vision of a nationwide plan to pay for private and religious school tuition says much more about Jindal’s national ambitions than about his concern for schools in Louisiana.

Jindal said the union “is working hard every day to make sure that you do not ever get the opportunity to get your child out of that failing school…”

In the reality based world, as LFT President Steve Monaghan pointed out, the union’s objective in filing our lawsuit was to uphold the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. It was in fact a conservative Republican judge who ruled on November 30 that the governor’s voucher plan violates a section of the constitution that reserves public school funds for public schools.

A pilot plan for vouchers, enacted in 2008 and funded separately through the state general fund, was never the subject of a constitutional challenge, although the LFT did oppose it as a matter of flawed policy.

If Gov. Jindal wants to blame someone for the outcome of the lawsuit, he need only consult a mirror.

The governor’s Washington speech reinforced a few things that we already know about his agenda.

First, that his political goals in life lie far outside the boundaries of our state. “Do not lay your head on the pillow at night believing that America [not just Louisiana] provides equal opportunity in education. We do not," he told the Brookings crowd.

Second, that Jindal believes the privatization of education is the only way to guarantee all children a high-quality education. On Tuesday, that required a delicate dance in which the governor had to accept Brookings’ praise of the state’s public school choice options while at the same time condemning public education as a failure.

His almost religious faith in the efficacy of private education also is belied by research that shows voucher schools to have produced results about the same or even lower than their public counterparts.

Third, that Jindal believes teacher unions are the educational equivalent of the Antichrist. He does not want to hear that we, too, have ideas about school reform. Ours are research-based, educationally sound and proven to work. He does not want to believe that we, too, love children. He does not want to believe that we want schools to succeed.

The problem with beliefs that are not grounded in reality is that they lead the believer into error, and that is the territory in which Gov. Jindal now finds himself.

At one point in his speech, the governor called on teachers to “peel the scales off their eyes.” What he does not seem to realize is that the scales have, indeed, fallen from teachers’ eyes. And when they look at Gov. Jindal, they do not like what they see.

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