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Your LFT Connection - April 2012

“Elections have consequences.”

Type that sentence into your search engine, and you’re likely to get more than 32 million hits.

What has happened to public education in the past few weeks has taught me (and I am quite sure many others) new respect for the “consequences” statement. Never have we seen an election that has had such dire consequences. 

Attacks on the professionals who dedicate their lives to our children have never been so vicious. The destruction of our public schools has never been so imminent.

In January, Gov. Jindal launched his “bold education reform” in a speech to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. In it, he compared teachers to drug dealers and batterers.

This month, the legislature passed one law that will dismantle our schools and divert billions of public dollars to private, religious and corporate schools, and another law that bases virtually all personnel decisions on the controversial new ‘Value Added Model” of teacher evaluation. The proverbial train is on the tracks.

Education was first in the crosshairs, but we’re not the only target. Governor Jindal and his allies are ruthlessly pursuing the most radical deconstruction of public services ever seen in Louisiana. State employees, public safety and health care will be next on the chopping block.

Despite the fact that the LFT and other unions fought back, despite the unprecedented numbers of educators who came to Baton Rouge and testified before committees, and despite the tens of thousands of phone calls and emails urging legislators to protect our public schools and respect those who give tirelessly to educate Louisiana children, the train still roars toward its destination.

The unions that give voice to educators’ frustrations are now under threat from the governor and his allies. HB 1023 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) would prohibit “an entity which engages in political activity from receiving public payroll withholdings or deductions.”

A rabidly anti-union Washington-based advocacy group, the National Right to Work Committee, waded in and formally urged legislators to pass HB 1023.

Their issue is simple. They want to crush your union. They want our (and your) silence.

That effort to stifle your voices will not work. Even if the bill succeeds, we will continue to represent professional educators. But we all know, from similar attacks in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, and Alabama, that making dues collection for unions more difficult diverts resources away from fighting for our profession in the halls of the capitol.

They want to shut us up. We won’t. We will fight back in the legislature, in the political arena and in the courts. But I want to be completely frank with you: we are in for a long, hard fight.

Nervous legislators are hopeful that we will forget what they have done before the next statewide election in 2015. We are ready with several strategies to make sure that does not happen.

We know that we cannot wait until the next election cycle to begin to reclaim democracy. We will go to court and challenge those aspects of the governor’s agenda that we believe are unconstitutional. I believe we will win those challenges.

There is good reason to believe we will win in court. During the 2010 legislative session, we argued that the so-called “Red Tape Reduction Act” was unconstitutional, and we promised to file suit. We did, and the 19th Judicial District Court agreed with us. We now await the Louisiana Supreme Court’s answer to the Governor’s appeal of that decision.

On April 4, on the steps of the Capitol, I urged the more than 1,000 educators to commit to “total recall” and to remember every promise made and every promise broken. When the session ends on June 5, we will review the voting records of legislators regarding the session’s most important legislation. Those who chose the governor’s agenda over the wishes of their constituents will be held accountable.

As I wrote earlier, this will be a long fight. This is not a fight we have chosen, rather it is a fight that has chosen us.
Please, keep doing what you are doing. Continue to follow the issues. Continue to contact lawmakers. Call them on the phone. Meet them when they visit their home districts, and tell them you are disappointed in their actions.

Your efforts are not being wasted. When thousands of teachers and school employees appeared at the Capitol, it made an impression. We lost the vote, but lawmakers knew a force had been awakened.

Whenever you can, visit the Capitol and make your presence known. A constant, daily presence in the Capitol can wear down their resolve just as, over time, drops of water erode the hardest stone.

Above all, be brave and don’t lose hope. Our democracy as well as our children’s future is in your hands, not the governor’s, and not the legislature’s.

For the future, keep up the good fight.

Steve Monaghan, President
Louisiana Federation of Teachers