Jindal, Louisiana Teacher Tenure Law Back in Court

Not unfamiliar with contention, Gov. Bobby Jindal watched his controversial teacher tenure law have its day in court on Friday.  The Louisiana Supreme Court heard the debate between Jindal’s attorneys and attorneys for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers over the constitutionality of Jindal’s law, Act 1 of the 2012 legislative session.

The law watered down teachers’ tenure protections and tied teacher evaluations to students’ performance on standardized tests.  The point at issue in this phase of the arguments is whether too many different items are thrown together in one, as legalese calls it, “object“, reports Jessica Williams of The Times-Picayune.

Michael Caldwell, a 19th Judicial District Court judge in Baton Rouge, has twice ruled that the law has too many unrelated subjects in one package.

Act 1′s placement of some authority from local school boards to superintendents is not relevant to the law.

Act 2′s funding methodology for Jindal’s voucher law was struck down by the state Supreme Court – but not because it violated the single object rule – the court asked Caldwell to rule again on Act 1, and, once again, he ruled it unconstitutional.

The Jindal administration’s attorney, Jimmy Faircloth, argued for broader constitutional interpretation on Friday, then spoke of the connectedness of the elements of Act 1.  He also mentioned recent amendments that gave teachers a stronger voice in layoff hearings, and were authored in collaboration with teachers unions and other stakeholders.

Mike Hasten, writing for The Advertiser, deconstructs the parts of Act 1, which:

• Makes it easier to lose and harder to earn tenure

• Sets forth a policy for dismissing teachers for failing annual assessments

• Creates a system for teachers to appeal their firing

• Removes a pay scale that favors experienced teachers

• Changes criteria for when teachers have to be laid off so that seniority is not a factor

• Strips school boards of some authority

• Allows superintendents to hire and fire employees and teachers

• Requires school boards to submit copes of local superintendents’ contracts to the state Department of Education

• Requires boards to submit reasons for firing superintendents

• Sets up ways to reward better teachers

The teachers union attorney said that the various provisions of Act 1 had to be in one bill because parts of it would not have passed on their own, and some legislators were compelled to vote for the entire bill because some parts were so popular with their constituents.

Meanwhile, Act 1 remains in place and is being implemented by schools across Louisiana, says Mike Hasten of the Shreveport Times.  One part of the Act 1 that was very upsetting to teachers was how their dismissals would be handled.  After some ironing out by the legislature, instead of dismissals being handled by the principal and the superintendent, and a person chosen by the teacher being dismissed, there will be an independent arbitrator who will rule on the appropriateness of the dismissal.

“Everything in the act is related to teacher tenure and effectiveness,” Faircloth said. “There are lots and lots of parts to it but that’s not the test. Act 2 was actually more comprehensive in reach than this statute” and the court said it did not exceed the single object limit. “I expect the court to have a clear understanding of the law and issue an opinion in our favor.”