On Wednesday, the Louisiana Supreme Court, as expected, refused to grant an injunction blocking the implementation of Governor Bobby Jindal’s controversial voucher program, and, perhaps not surprisingly, John White, the Louisiana Superintendent of Education, and the paid consultants at the Louisiana BAEO gloated about the decision, crowing that the courts had “once again” affirmed the righteousness of school vouchers.
This, of course, is not, at all, what happened.
John White, in his capacity as Louisiana Superintendent of Education, testified under oath that if an injunction against the voucher program was granted, then his department would be forced into deficit spending. And, conveniently, there’s a law in Louisiana that prohibits courts from issuing an injunction against the government if the head of the agency says the injunction would result in deficit spending.
The decision was a procedural one.
Justices upheld lower court rulings that determined a judge can’t issue an injunction stalling the voucher program because of a 1969 law that bars injunctions if a state agency chief says that would cause a deficit in the department.
Jindal administration leaders, including White, have said in affidavits that the Department of Education would face a deficit if the laws creating and funding the voucher program were blocked.
Make no mistake: John White’s testimony is patently absurd, but Jindal’s attorneys backed him up, telling the court that an injunction against school vouchers would create a $3.4 BILLION deficit. That’s billion, with a b.
Superintendent John White and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater made just such a claim, saying that enacting an injunction on the voucher program, for which 8,000 students have already applied, would lead to a $3.4 billion hole in the state’s education budget.
The figure stems from the $3.4 billion Louisiana currently spends on state aid for school operations via the Minimum Foundation Program. Jimmy Faircloth, who represented the state during Tuesday’s hearing, said it was “unavoidable and factually inescapable” that the proposed injunction would lead to the ten-figure deficit. “It’s just indisputable,” he said, according to Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
However, as Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “That’s just kind of crazy. … There’s no way that not spending money can cause a deficit. When you don’t fund something, you can’t have a deficit. There’s no deficit if you can’t spend.” Blackwell pointed out that the funds have already been sent to the Department of Education and that an injunction would merely prevent the money from being distributed.
Additionally, because the size of the state’s Minimum Foundation Program has grown since 2011, Blackwell notes — according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune — that using last year’s funding formula, which Louisiana would utilize if the state legislature could not agree upon a new one, would leave tens of millions of dollars as surplus for the DoE.
Absent a trial about the facts, the courts have done what they’re tasked to do: Rule on the law. As Superintendent White and Governor Jindal’s attorneys have long realized, the law is relatively clear-cut: If John White says that an injunction results in deficit spending, then the injunction cannot be granted. Put another way, if one side claims, under oath, that an injunction against the voucher program would create deficit spending and the other side claims, under oath, it would actually result in a surplus, that becomes a question of fact. The court can’t grant the injunction unless there’s been a trial on the facts, and although such a trial is inevitable at this point, it’s likely several months from even beginning.
So while John White claims victory and suggests that Wednesday’s decision validates his position, the truth is that the Louisiana Supreme Court never ruled on the merits or the fact of this case. They’ve merely accepted Superintendent White’s sworn testimony. I hope readers understand the distinctions here, because the positions taken by both Jindal and White are obviously dishonest: There is no conceivable way that an injunction against the voucher program would result in deficit spending. The voucher program, by definition, is concerned with giving away taxpayer dollars, and most assuredly not about generating revenue for the Louisiana Department of Education.
The mere suggestion that an injunction would result in a $3.4 billion deficit should insult and offend even those who support the program, and the statement should be understood for what it truly is: A nakedly political and manifestly false machination, the most damning evidence yet of Superintendent White and Governor Jindal’s willingness to misrepresent the facts and exploit the law in order to ensure their own short-term political victory. No rational person could possibly believe that an injunction against a brand-new school voucher program would result in deficit spending, let alone a $3.4 billion deficit.
Superintendent White and Governor Jindal both know, full-well, that if an injunction had been granted, the Louisiana Department of Education’s budget would merely be held to the same strictures and criteria as it was last year; that is, it wouldn’t change at all. This isn’t a matter of fact; it’s a matter of law and process.
Either way, in a few months from now, when these issues of fact are finally in front of the courts, remember that the only reason the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to order an injunction is because John White said it would have caused a deficit in his department. And when the facts finally are revealed, remember that John White once praised the court for validating his “message.” Remember, that for the last couple of months, it’s been easier and much more convenient for Superintendent White to duck behind the political rhetoric of “parental choice” than face the reality of his own massive administrative and oversight failures.