Covering Louisiana

Jun 7, 2012 1:21 PM by AP

Teachers union challenges Jindal education changes

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Louisiana teachers union asked a state court Thursday to throw out a set of sweeping education changes pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and passed by lawmakers in the just-ended legislative session.

At issue are changes to the state's elementary and secondary school funding formula that will pay for a statewide voucher program, online schools, college tuition scholarships and an expansion of charter schools.

Also targeted in the lawsuits are changes made to teacher tenure and salary law, to make it harder for teachers to reach the job protection status and to get rid of statewide pay scales for teachers.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed two lawsuits in Baton Rouge district court, calling passage of both measures unconstitutional. The lawsuits say the changes violate constitutional provisions governing the passage of legislation and governing the school financing formula.

"In the haste to steamroll these bills through the Legislature, the constitution was often treated like little more than a list of inconvenient suggestions," LFT President Steve Monaghan said in a statement. "The passage of these laws has elevated legal challenges to acts of civic responsibility."

Teachers repeatedly protested at the Louisiana Capitol in March and April, but criticism of the measures did nothing to slow them down, as they were fast-tracked through the Legislature by Jindal allies.

Supporters said the education changes will give parents more choices for their children and improve education for children in a state that ranks in the bottom five states for national achievement test performance.

Jindal spokesman Aaron Baer described the court challenge as a bid by special interests to "preserve an educational system that is failing far too many children."

"The unions are effectively waging a war on parents, students and Louisiana's future," Baer said in an email.

Opponents said the laws will siphon dollars from public schools and leave some of the neediest students in schools with fewer dollars to educate them. They complain private and parochial schools won't be held to the same accountability standards as public schools even though they'll get public funding. They accused Jindal of advancing the ideas to boost his conservative credentials nationally.

The LFT lawsuit against the school financing plans says the formula described in the Louisiana Constitution is supposed to pay for public schools - not private school vouchers, online schools, college tuition, home-schooling programs and charter schools outside of the local school system.

Monaghan also said the final spending plans were passed improperly with 51 votes of the House, under a ruling by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, a Jindal ally, that allowed passage with fewer than the House majority of 53 votes.

The lawsuit against the tenure revamp says the bill violated the constitution by containing multiple objects, rather than items in one section of the law. The measure changed laws governing teacher tenure, teacher salary and seniority, school board authority and duties of school principals.

The lawsuit against the education spending changes, including the voucher funding, was also filed on behalf of Jillian Alexander, a parent of two public school students in Baton Rouge, and Billie Smith, a Baton Rouge teacher.

Also named as plaintiffs in the tenure lawsuit are Nellie Meariman and Kevin Dehart, teachers in Jefferson Parish.

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