Louisiana Federation of Teachers
(Baton Rouge - June 7, 2012) Challenging the legality of Governor Bobby Jindal’s signature education initiatives, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers today filed two lawsuits in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court asking to have Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session set aside.
“In the haste to steamroll these bills through the legislature, the Constitution was often treated like little more than a list of inconvenient suggestions,” Federation President Steve Monaghan said. “The passage of these laws has elevated legal challenges to acts of civic responsibility.”
Common to both lawsuits is a charge that the legislature violated the constitution by bundling what should have been a number of different bills into just two instruments. The constitution clearly states in Article II, Section 15 that every bill “shall be confined to one object.”
•Act 1 adversely affects Louisiana teachers by changing tenure laws, hiring and firing policies, and compensation. It removes the jurisdiction of school boards over teacher employment, and redefines the role of local school superintendents.
•Act 2 radically redefines public education. It expands the state’s voucher program, which pays tuition to private and religious schools, and takes the funding for vouchers from public education’s Minimum Foundation Program. It includes a whole new category of charter schools to be created by unelected, largely unaccountable bodies that have the same authority as local school boards.
In concert with the $3.4 billion MFP resolution adopted by the legislature, Act 2 siphons funds away from public schools and into the pockets of investment bankers, business and industry providers and virtual, online schools that will be extremely difficult to regulate.
“By cramming so many objectives into just two bills, public comment and debate were stifled,” Monaghan said. “Legislators were given little information about the bills, and appeared intimidated into passing them without adequate debate and oversight.”
The Federation’s objections to Act 2 extend to the adoption of the MFP. The resolution barely passed the House of Representatives on a 51-49 vote. Because the MFP resolution has the force of law, Monaghan said, it should have required at least 53 votes to pass. It can be argued that a two-thirds majority vote was necessary because of the late date at which the MFP was considered.
“The adoption of the MFP was a travesty,” Monaghan said. “Even the Speaker of the House made a mockery of the rule of law when he said there is a ‘history that the House has not always followed constitutional procedure on this issue’.”
Some of the LFT’s specific challenges to Act 1’s bundled objectives, each of which should have been a separate bill, include:
•It changes the contractual relationship between local school boards and their superintendents.
•It strips the authority to hire and fire teachers from school boards and gives it to superintendents.
•It gives superintendents sole authority to determine reduction in force policies.
•It creates a new section of law regarding how teacher salaries will be determined.
•It changes due process rights that teachers have under law.
The LFT’s allegations about Act 2 go deeper than the inappropriate bundling of objectives. Included in the suit are charges that the Act:
•Unconstitutionally diverts MFP funds from public schools to private and religious institutions, citing Article VIII, Section 13(b) which states that the formula “shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.”
•Diverts funds approved by local voters for specific purposes to private, religious and charter schools that were not included in the ballot language.
•Was adopted in violation of the Louisiana Constitution - Article III, Section 2A(3)(a) and Article III, Section15(G) – which specify the number of votes an item must receive in order to be appropriately adopted by the Legislature.
“For those who may once more attempt to hide their disrespect for the rule of law and the people’s constitution behind a façade of faceless children, we would assert that it is out of love and respect for the fate of every child that we must challenge these unconstitutional acts,” said Steve Monaghan.
Named as defendant in the lawsuit against Act 1 is the State of Louisiana; the defendant in the suit challenging Act 2 is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The plaintiffs specified in the suits are the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and four individual Louisiana school teachers.
To read the lawsuits for Act 1 and Act 2 see the LFT web page.