One of Louisiana’s two largest teacher unions filed lawsuits on today asking a district judge to set aside Gov. Bobby Jindal’s two key bills to overhaul public schools. The legal challenges ask that the bills be declared unconstitutional were filed in the 19th Judicial District. The claim is that the state Constitution was violated by including what should have been a number of bills into a single one.
“In the haste to steamroll these bills through the Legislature the Constitution was often treated like little more than a list of inconvenient suggestions,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, in a prepared statement. Monaghan said that “Legislators were given little information about the bills, and appeared intimidated into passing them without adequate debate and oversight.”
Jindal’s office criticized the legal action. The governor’s office representative Aaron Baer, deputy communications director, stated “Make no mistake, the lawsuit filed today is nothing more than the latest salvo in the special interests quixotic quest to preserve an educational system that is failing too many children.”
House Bill 974 would make it harder for teachers to earn and keep a form of job protection called tenure. The other bill, House Bill 976, would expand eligibility for some low and middle-income students to qualify for vouchers to attend private and parochial schools. The LFT opposed both bills which won final legislative approval in April.
Under 974 those rated as “ineffective” – likely the bottom 10 percent – would lose tenure immediately and could face dismissal proceedings. New teachers would have to be rated as ‘highly effective” – in the top 10 percent – for five out of six years to become tenured. The evaluations will start with the 2012-13 school year. Teachers will not face a loss of tenure until the 2013-14 school year — the spring of 2014.
The same bill also requires performance objectives for local superintendents, redefnes the role of local school boards, bans the exclusive use of seniority in layoff decisions and allows local officials to revamp salary schedules.
976 allows some students who attend public schools rated “C,” “D’” or “F” to apply for state aid to attend private and parochial schools, or top flight public schools.
One of the lawsuit also challenges how the MFP was approved on Monday, which was the last day of the nearly three month session.
Most bills require a majority of the 105-member House, which is 53 votes.
But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, ruled that, as a resolution, it only required a majority of those in the chamber and voting.
The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, passed the House 51-49.
The legal challenge says that, as such, the measure failed to win a majority of the House as required by the state Constitution.
“The adoption of the MFP was a travesty,” Monaghan said.
974 also expands the list of authorizers for charter schools, which are public schools run by non-governmental groups, and sets up common applications for charter school applicants. The challenge on the teacher tenure legal changes names the state of Louisiana as the defendant. The challenge to the voucher law names the state and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as defendants.