Judge rules entire teacher “talent” act unconstitutional

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Click here to read Judge Caldwell's written reasons for judgment.

(Baton Rouge – March 4, 2013) In a stunning setback for the Jindal administration, a Baton Rouge district judge today ruled the entirety of an act governing teacher tenure, evaluations, salaries and more to be unconstitutional.

Late last year, 19th Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that parts of Act 1 of 2012 violated the constitution, but many sections were constitutional because they conformed with a title given to the act, “TEACHERS: Provides relative to teacher tenure, pay-for-performance and salaries.”

In today’s reversal of that decision, the judge agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that he had misread part of the bill, and ruled that the entire act violated the constitutional prohibition against bundling multiple objects into one piece of legislation.

Given his new understanding of the rules that govern legislation, Judge Caldwell said, “Act 1 of 2012 is unconstitutional in its entirety.”

The judge’s ruling vindicates what the LFT has said since the bill was introduced in 2012, said Federation President Steve Monaghan.

“On the first day of testimony, we appealed to the House Education Committee to reject this flawed bill,” Monaghan said. “It was broken from the day it was introduced. If the process of passing a bill is spoiled, that equals a poisoned product.”

The decision will be welcomed, Monaghan said, by the state’s 50,000 teachers, who have been outraged by what is widely perceived as an attack on their profession.

“Now it is time for the legislature and Gov. Jindal to revisit education reform and talk to teachers,” Monaghan said. “Instead of continuing to defend the indefensible, let’s build reform based on what happens in the classroom, not on mandates from on high.”

The LFT president urged Gov. Jindal and his allies to put aside the anti-teacher rhetoric that highlighted the push to pass Act 1.

“The name-calling has to stop,” Monaghan said.”We can’t keep pointing fingers and arguing about who loves children the most. It is in the power of the legislature to repair this broken system, and we are ready to work with them on a remedy.”

Judge Caldwell based his ruling on Article III, Section 15(A) of the State Constitution, which states that every bill shall have just one object. That is to prevent lawmakers from having to vote for a section of a bill they do not want in order to win a separate object of which they approve.

Act one violated that article because it amended and reenacted nine statutes, and enacted two entirely new statutes. It tied teacher salaries, tenure, promotions and termination to a new evaluation system. It changed the way school boards contract with superintendents, altered the general powers of school boards, delegated new authority to principals and superintendents and mandated different reduction-in-force policies.

“Lawmakers were given no opportunity to consider each of these objectives on their own merits,” Monaghan said. “It was a textbook example of the reason why the constitution exists in the first place.”