Louisiana Unions Sue Over Education Reforms

The Louisiana Association of Educators voted Saturday to sue over alterations to the state’s school funding formula for elementary and secondary schools that will provide money for a statewide voucher program, online schools, and expansion of charter schools and college tuition scholarships. Governor Bobby Jindal has made the education reforms the main focus of the legislative session.

Louisiana Association of Educators is an affiliate of the National Education Association and said that the changes violate Louisiana’s state constitution, which makes it illegal to transfer local tax money from one district to another.

The LAE is joining the Louisiana Federation of Teachers who filed two lawsuits last Thursday claiming the changes violated the constitution. The LFT is also challenging Act 1 which makes changes to teacher tenure, hiring and firing practices and the extension of superintendent authority. The LAE is not challenging these changes.

During March and April teachers protested at the Louisiana Capitol several times but the Act 1 and voucher program changes were fast tracked through the Legislature by Jindal allied reformists. Union leaders are unhappy at the process used to push the changes into law and are organizing a recall effort for Jindal. While efforts are ongoing to recall Jindal, the wind may have been somewhat taken out of their sales by Governor Scott Walker surviving his recall motion so well he extended his electoral lead and mandate. The Walker recall motion took place in similar circumstances and his victory is a sign that education reformists have won not just the battle but the war.

Jindal described the court challenge as a bid by special interests to preserve a failing educational system. The Republican governor calls the teacher union part of a “coalition of the status quo.”

Jim Garvey, a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has expressed disappointment that the Jefferson Parish chapter of the LFT has joined the suits. He also argued that vouchers will reduce the cost of educating students because private school tuition is lower than state per pupil funding.

“The injunctions that the JFT is seeking in connection with these cases would suspend the new laws that, among other things, would allow superintendents to use teacher effectiveness, instead of teacher seniority, in deciding how teachers are assigned to classrooms,” Garvey wrote. “I don’t think that making seniority the basis for assigning a teacher to a classroom was the result that Jefferson’s hard working teachers were seeking in paying their dues to the JFT.”