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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Letter: A lump of coal from Jindal

Ponchatoula High School teacher and LFT member Kevin Crovetto penned this letter to the editor of the Hammond Daily Star.

Dear Editor:

In reference to the recent violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mentally deranged assailant, it should be noted that our own Gov. Bobby Jindal has officially turned his back on the mentally ill in Louisiana by providing over 300 pink slips to the workers at Southeast Mental Hospital who cared for both young and old mental patients.

Of course, Bobby says that they can apply for jobs with the private companies who will attempt to provide some of the services, and of course, those jobs will be for lower pay with little or no benefits.

Bobby Jindal has given Louisiana citizens the proverbial lump of coal this year, while his legislators nod and grin because most refuse to upset “Bobby the Grinch.”

This is the same Legislature that passed a new, all-inclusive law to deter bullying in schools; yet, they allow themselves to be bullied by Jindal’s political schemes.

Jindal’s educational “water-boy,” State Superintendent John White, is in charge of the new state initiative called “Louisiana Believes,” which is supposed to promote the educational programs that the legislature was bullied into voting for called Acts 1 and 2.

John White wants us to buy into “Louisiana Believes,” but, like his boss, Bobby, White does not really believe in Louisiana. He is now a finalist for a $300,000-a-year superintendent job for an out-of-state school district in a major city.

White is following his boss in looking for the next best thing for his personal gain, while “giving hell” to the rest of us about what we need to do to be better.

If Jindal and White want better results, it is only because they want better perceptions of their own success to gratify their own financial, political and personal success.

As native Louisianians, we DO believe in Louisiana. That is why we DO NOT believe in the selfish actions of Bobby Jindal and John White. It is now time to prepare a real Christmas present for Mr. Jindal and send it via our legislators.

We should expect our legislators to represent our communities and not other people’s personal political agendas for selfish gain. This gift also comes with a price tag to the deliverer, the Legislature, which is that if this message does not get through to the governor, we as Louisiana citizens believe that our next gift to you will be a political lump of coal.

Many citizens continue to encourage me to speak up and write about the injustices we are facing. Although I am proud to stand up for the people of this state, I do not write to entertain but to implore, inspire, and encourage you to speak up.

Contact your local legislators. Take a stand with me.

— Kevin B. Crovetto, Ponchatoula

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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monaghan to whiners: It's time for some introspection

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan has responded to whiners in the administration who blame the LFT and others for a judicial ruling against the way Gov. Bobby Jindal chose to fund his voucher scheme.

In a letter to The Advocate, Monaghan asks if the conservative Republican judge who ruled against the Jindal administration is party to a conspiracy "to get in the way of student achievement," a theory fabricated by Superintendent of Education John White.

And while the governor chooses to describe the ruling as "wrongheaded" and "a travesty," Monaghan wants to know if Jindal has access to a mirror.

"Now, isn’t it time for a bit of introspection and reflection on the part of those charged with driving the train?" Monaghan writes. "Tagging Judge Kelley as 'wrong-headed' and the LFT as a 'hindrance' strongly suggests that no responsibility has been taken and nothing has been learned."

Monaghan's letter has a worthy companion on today's editorial page, with former Jefferson Parish School Board Member Terry Verigan weighing in on White's history of "converting public schools into private enterprise charter schools."

Verigan says of White, "During his brief 100-day tenure as deputy chancellor of the New York City Schools, he managed to alienate parents and teachers alike with his aggressive and thoughtless campaign to 'reform' the schools."

"The fact that he was never a school principal and was barely a classroom teacher contribute to his misdirected assault on public education in our state," writes Verigan. "John White came to Louisiana unprepared and having a personal agenda that had little to do with improving public schools. That Bobby Jindal placed him in this critical role says much about the governor’s superficial interest in public service and the welfare of Louisiana’s children."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

WAFB-TV covers voucher ruling

Watch Baton Rouge's WAFB-TV coverage of Judge Tim Kelley's decision that Gov. Bobby Jindal's so-called "choice" act unconstitutionally funds non-public education.
WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Who is really hindering student achievement?

So Superintendent of Education John White tells Advocate reporter Will Sentell that teacher unions, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, are hindering student progress. That’s because we opposed in court – successfully thus far – Governor Jindal’s scheme to siphon public education funds away from public schools and into the pockets of private schools, religious schools and the vampire capitalists who can’t wait to get their fangs into the state’s cash artery.

Never mind that the governor’s plan was patently, obviously unconstitutional, or that it was ramrodded through the legislature with all the subtlety of a Maoist Great Leap Forward, or that most lawmakers didn’t have the slightest idea what they were being directed to approve.
Progress, according to Superintendent White, is being hindered because we are the ones who pointed out the emperor’s lack of clothes.

In truth, the superintendent’s tantrum simply mirrors the frustration of a governor who has been told by a state court that he must play by the rules. And that tends to bridle the governor’s political ambitions, which are propelling his education agenda much more forcefully than a passion to improve student achievement.

The fact is that the governor’s privatization schemes are a much greater threat to student achievement than actions by teacher unions. Paying for students to attend schools that abhor science will not produce the next Einstein. Diverting school funds to online course providers will not create the educated work force that our future demands.

To find a real hindrance to student achievement, look to Governor Jindal’s budget priorities. It was he who slashed over $76 million from after school tutorial programs, classroom technology, reading and math initiatives and stipends for nationally certified teachers. 

It was Gov. Jindal who rejected, on purely political grounds, a $60 million federal grant for pre-kindergarten education.

The difference between these programs and Gov. Jindal’s schemes is that they are all proven to enhance student achievement. Another distinction is that they all have the solid support of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers – the union that Supt. White says is hindering student achievement.