Louisiana court reverses itself, holding teacher tenure provision in sweeping education law unconstitutional
The Advocate reports that Louisiana District Judge R. Michael Caldwell who upheld the tenure part of a sweeping education law in December 2012, has reversed himself after hearing new arguments from both sides. The judge has now declared the tenure provision unconstitutional.
The ruling was a victory for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). The LFT filed the lawsuit and said that the 2012 measure would essentially end teacher tenure in Louisiana. The decision also could throw a wrench into sweeping new teacher evaluations, which are under way in public schools for the first time.
Governor Jindal, who made the overhaul a key legislative priority last year as a way to improve teacher quality, said Caldwell’s ruling will be appealed. “We are obviously very confident we are going to prevail at the Supreme Court,” he said.
The measure, known as Act 1, won approval in the state legislature last year. But the LFT filed a lawsuit in June 2012, arguing that the measure illegally contained multiple subjects that required separate legislative debates. Caldwell ruled in December 2012 that the teacher tenure part of the law was legal, but struck down several other provisions. However, both sides sought a new hearing.
Caldwell said he earlier misinterpreted details of how the measure was described in the legislation, including the title. He said that, after a second review, he concluded the law was unconstitutional by including multiple subjects in a single bill — the key LFT argument against the legislation. “It is my feeling that Act 1 is unconstitutional in its entirety,” Caldwell said.
Under the law, teachers who are rated as “ineffective” would lose tenure and could face dismissal proceedings. New teachers would have to be rated as “highly effective” for five out of six years to earn tenure.
The new rules are also linked to new teacher evaluations — they stem from a 2010 law — that links half of a teacher’s annual review to the growth of student performance. Whether those changes remain intact likely depends on how the state Supreme Court rules.
During the roughly 30 minutes of oral arguments, LFT attorney Larry Samuel said the law clearly violates Louisiana’s constitutional requirement that statutes “shall be confined to one subject.” Samuel said the wide range of topics in the law “make a mockery” of the one-subject rule. Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney for the state, said the court should use an “expansive” view of issues allowed in a bill, which he said are connected by the push to overhaul teacher practices. “There are a lot of moving parts,” he said.
The governor said Caldwell’s ruling dealt with the form of the law, not the substance of the measure. He repeatedly blamed the “forces of the status quo” for battling the statute, a reference to the LFT and other critics.
The state’s appeal is set for March 19 in the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Source: The Advocate, 3/5/13, By Will Sentell
[Editor's Note: In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Times-Picayune, which reported that Louisiana’s largest teachers association, some of its local chapters, and four individual public school teachers had filed two state lawsuits challenging the education overhaul Governor Jindal signed in April 2012.
Also in June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education Week, which reported that while other states have sought to reform teacher job protections, such as tenure, seniority, and due process, through legislation, opponents in California had resorted to litigation instead to eliminate such protections. At least three lawsuits had taken aim in the past two years at district and state rules governing teacher evaluation, seniority, or due process. The Legal Clips summary outlines the three cases that were in play in California at the time.]