State judge tosses out part of Jindal’s education overhaul

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(Baton Rouge – December 18, 2012) For the second time in a matter of weeks, a state judge has ruled that Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies overstepped the State Constitution in adopting a radical and controversial overhaul of public education in the 2012 legislative session.

On Tuesday, 19th Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell determined that part of Act 1 of 2012 violated the constitution because it was bundled with objects unrelated to a single purpose.

The judge allowed to stand three portions of Act 1 dealing with teacher tenure and salary, but tossed out provisions that changed the relationship between school boards and superintendents, altered Reduction in Force policies and created performance targets for struggling schools.

Those sections, the judge said, conflicted with the act’s title, “TEACHERS: Provides relative to teacher tenure, pay-for-performance and evaluations.”

Previously, another state judge ruled that the entirety of Act 2, which expanded a statewide voucher program, dramatically expanded charter schools and created a new category called “course providers”, was unconstitutional. Judge Tim Kelley ruled that Act 2 improperly expended public school funds on non-public education programs.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said that today’s ruling vindicated the Federation’s contention that Act 1 violated the constitution by lumping unconnected objectives into one bill.

But because the ruling “split the baby,” Monaghan said, The Federation is considering an appeal of Judge Caldwell’s decision, saying that the improper inclusion of some objects tainted the whole bill.

Article 3 of the State Constitution prohibits multiple objects in a bill to protect lawmakers from having to vote for an issue they may disagree with in order to get a favorable result on an unrelated issue.

Monaghan stressed that today’s ruling rests solely on the multiple objects clause in the constitution, and not on the effectiveness or merits of the law itself.

“If the ruling stands on appeal,” Monaghan said, “some of Louisiana’s best teachers – some nationally board certified, some who have been named Teachers of the Year – could lose their jobs. We will be back in court filing lawsuits related to the damage that a flawed law is causing teachers in Louisiana.”

Here are some FAQs about today’s ruling:

Did LFT win in court?

Today our Motion for Summary Judgment was granted in part and denied in part. We prevailed in our legal argument, that the bill was multi-purposed and thus unconstitutional. The judge’s ruling affirms that contention even though it severed the offending section of Act 1.

What did the judge say?

Judge Caldwell agreed with our basic argument that the HB 974/Act 1 had contained provisions which amounted to more than one "object" in violation of the Louisiana Constitution's requirement that all bills contain one object.

However, even though the act has more than one object he did not declare that the whole act is unconstitutional. Instead, he held only that Section One of the act was outside the scope of the bill's object and struck only Section One of the law.

Which Part of the Bill was declared Unconstitutional?

Section one was held unconstitutional and can be read as part of the Enrolled version of Act 1 here:

Section one contains provisions regarding: 

  • Powers of Superintendents to Hire and Fire
  • Approval of Superintendent Contracts by the Louisiana Department of Education, and provisions required in such contracts for CDF schools
  • Duties and Powers of Principals
  • Duties of School Boards
  • Visiting Teacher Provisions
  • New Reduction in Force Policies

What's Next?

We will carefully consider grounds for appeal and make a decision as an organization. Since this decision was a partial victory for both LFT and the State it is possible that both sides will appeal to the extent they disagree with the Judge's ruling that is adverse to them. 

What do we do while we await more information on changes to our districts?

In the aftermath of this opinion there will be substantial questions that need to be answered about the School Board's role in hiring and firing. We will work together, and with our local school boards to make sure that the very best outcomes for students and teachers are achieved.

While policy groups are likely to put out their own interpretations it is proper for the legislature to address the uncertainties created by the passage of this law.

Ultimately, it will be up to the legislature to correct the flaws in Gov. Jindal’s education agenda.  “This mess was created legislatively and must ultimately be corrected legislatively,” Monaghan said. “Both Acts 1 and 2 represent fruit of the poisoned legislative process of 2012. So, we have been compelled to litigate, while we simultaneously work toward legislative remedies during the 2013 session.”

To read Judge Caldwell's ruling, please click here.