Judge Hands Jindal Victory on Louisiana Ed Reform Law

Although he recently suffered a minor setback, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – and the education reform agenda he has championed – had a very good day in court this week. Judge R. Michael Caldwell made his ruling regarding the “Act 1″ reform laws to teacher salary and tenure by finding that three of its four sections did not violate the state’s Constitution, while rejecting only one part of the law.

Caldwell ruled that the section dealing with how much power local superintendents had over decisions made by local school boards needed to be thrown out because it didn’t “fit” with the rest of the bill. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits the passage of any laws that deal with more that one issue at a time – the so-called “single object” rule.

Jindal hailed the ruling, saying that the judge’s findings vindicated his efforts at education reform. He said that the fact that the three key parts of the bill passed muster – the ones dealing with tenure and salary – proves that the government is on the right path to creating a more accountable and more successful education system in Louisiana.

Caldwell ruled Tuesday three of four parts of Act 1 fell within the bill’s title, “TEACHERS: Provides relative to teacher tenure, pay-for-performance and evaluations.”

However, Caldwell said Section 1 of Act 1, which shifted some powers from school boards to the local superintendent and created performance targets for failing schools, was unconstitutional because it was not closely enough related to teacher tenure, pay-for-performance or evaluations. Caldwell said Section 1′s relation to the rest of Act 1 required “a long, tenuous and convoluted journey that this court is not willing to make.”

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan has already announced that the union plans to appeal the ruling. Larry Samuel, who argued the case on the behalf of the LFT, said the fact that Part 1 was ruled unconstitutional should have invalidated the entire Act 1 and stopped its enforcement. He condemned Coldwell’s decision,  concluding that the judge was “splitting the baby.”

Monaghan added that the action wouldn’t have been brought if the Legislature just passed four separate bills instead of grouping the four parts together into a single act, .

Going forward, Monaghan said he hoped the governor didn’t see the issue of education reform as a zero sum game. He also hoped the with-me-or-against-me rhetoric could be softened.

“Tone it down a little from the governor’s end and from Superintendent [John] White’s end,” he said. He called for an honest discussion on education reform before April’s session.