Louisiana teachers association files lawsuits to challenge voucher program expansion and new tenure and personnel law
The Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana’s largest teachers association, some of its local chapters, and four individual public school teachers have filed two state lawsuits challenging the education overhaul Governor Bobby Jindal signed in April 2012. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) argues that the courts should strike down tenure and other personnel changes and a statewide program that will use the public school-financing formula to finance private school tuition grants through vouchers.
The voucher program suit, filed against the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, centrally concerns a constitutional passage regarding the school financing formula known as the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP). Gov. Jindal’s plan allows “qualified students” to receive private school tuition grants from the MFP. The state constitution requires the school board to “annually develop and adopt a formula which 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.”
LFT argues that this text forbids MFP spending on anything other than public schools or schools owned and operated by the state. Additionally, LFT is challenging the 51-49 vote on June 4 where the state House passed the new MFP resolution. The teachers’ argument highlights a constitutional passage requiring that “instruments carrying the force of law to receive a two-thirds vote,” 70 votes in the House, when considered after a certain point in the session. June 4 was the final day of the session. Another constitutional passage the teachers claim is relevant requires any bill to receive support from a majority of the membership or 53 votes in the House. However, the House Speaker Charles “Chuck” Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, argues that the MFP document is a resolution and only requires support from a majority of voters.
The voucher program originally operated as a pilot program in Orleans Parish in 2008. It was financed as an independent line-item in the state operating budget. As opponents from the start, the teachers union made political arguments that the policy diverted money from public education.
The challenge to the tenure and personnel law, filed against the State of Louisiana, is dependent on constitutional requirements that bills deal with a singular topic, and any amendments must relate to the same subject matter as the bill. The teachers claim that numerous provisions and amendments to the new law warrant separate bills and separate votes.
The new law makes tenure rights harder for new teachers to secure. It also ties tenure for all teachers to student performance. The law also shifts hiring and firing powers from local school boards to superintendents and principals, as well as requiring that all future superintendent contracts tie job security to student achievement and teacher evaluations.
Both suits ask for injunctions and seek to block implementation of the laws while the court considers the cases. The state Department of Education, however, has continued to implement the new provisions through a new teacher evaluation process. Under the new law, this evaluation process will be expanded to all schools, and the results will be used to determine tenure status under for teachers. Additionally, the state has accepted and continues to accept applications from parents and guardians whose children qualify for more than 5,000 new voucher slots statewide or the 2,000 spots in Orleans Parish.
Source: The Times-Picayune, 6/7/12, By Bill Barrow
[Editor's Note: Legal Clips recently covered an Associated Press (AP) report on thenewsstar.com regarding Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's education reform measures in an April 2012 Legal Clips summary.]