Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Teacher tenure law rejected by judge

caldwellBATON ROUGE — Gov. Bobby Jindal's reworking of teacher tenure and salary laws was again declared unconstitutional by a Baton Rouge judge, who had been asked to review his previous decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

District Judge Michael Caldwell ruled Wednesday that the legislation bundled together too many items spanning Louisiana's education laws.

"I am still of the opinion that the act violates the single object requirement and is unconstitutional in its entirety," Caldwell said.

The Republican judge issued the same ruling in March. But the state Supreme Court vacated Caldwell's decision and asked him to re-evaluate it.

The Supreme Court said its opinion in a separate case involving Jindal's statewide voucher program contained new case law for Caldwell to review. In that case, the high court rejected a similar argument that the voucher bill contained too many objectives.

Caldwell said even after reviewing that Supreme Court decision, he reached the same conclusion as his prior ruling. He said while he identified parts of the legislation had "some meager semblance of a unifying theme," he was unable to find a connection that bound all the parts of the bill.

Jindal said his administration will appeal the judge's decision to the Supreme Court.

"We think the law as was written and passed was constitutional," the Republican governor said. "On this very point, the Supreme Court read his original ruling, told him to reconsider it. He issued the exact same ruling. We're pretty optimistic when we go back to the Supreme Court."

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit challenging the 2012 legislation, which was known as Act 1.

The law limited local school boards' authority over hiring and firing decisions, made it harder for teachers to reach the job protection of tenure and eliminated statewide teacher pay scales. It also removed seniority-based protections for teachers during layoffs.

"It's a broken piece of legislation, and it was broken when it was passed," said Steve Monaghan, president of the teachers' group.

Jindal said the law was designed to improve teacher quality and student achievement.

The teacher union argued that Act 1 violated a constitutional provision requiring legislation to have one object, which is designed to give lawmakers the ability to properly comb through proposals and weigh their impact.

A lawyer for the Jindal administration, Jimmy Faircloth, said the voucher bill had more differing parts than Act 1 and was deemed not to violate the requirement against bundling too many objectives. Faircloth said all the pieces of Act 1 deal with school employment.

He said if the legislation was found to have too many objectives, Caldwell should have struck out the parts that didn't meet the central object of the bill rather than throw out the entire measure.

When the case was sent back to Caldwell, the teacher's group broadened its complaint, also asking the judge to declare that the law violates the due process rights of teachers under the state and federal constitutions. Caldwell didn't rule on that claim.

Caldwell's ruling came as litigation over the voucher program continued in federal court, where the Justice Department is pressing for a requirement that the state provide data to ensure the program doesn't adversely affect longstanding federal desegregation orders.

In November, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle gave state and federal lawyers 60 days to come up with a process by which the U.S. Justice Department can assure that the voucher program does not contribute to segregation of schools.

Late Tuesday, the Jindal administration said the state and federal lawyers have failed to agree, and state lawyers have asked Lemelle to reconsider his November decision.

Among the disagreements, the Justice Department proposed that the state provide federal authorities with information on planned voucher assignments 45 days before students and their families are notified of those assignments. The state objects to that requirement, saying it will provide needless disruptions in the program.

 

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