Teachers group to push repeal of Jindal’s laws

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, acknowledged that repealing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school overhaul laws next year would require a political tsunami.

But that is just what his group hopes to do, remote as it appears.

Monaghan, whose group opposed the bills, told the annual meeting of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that starting on Jan. 1, teachers and others have 96 days until the session begins on April 8 to get their message across.

He said the theme to lawmakers will be simple.

“Do not defend the indefensible,” Monaghan said.

The chief targets of the LFT’s wrath, as they have been for months, are two laws enacted earlier this year.

One expanded Louisiana’s voucher program from New Orleans only to a statewide choice for low-income students attending troubled public schools to switch to private and parochial schools at state expense.

The other one will make it harder for public school teachers to earn and retain tenure, which is a form of job protection.

Jindal and other backers said the laws will help improve Louisiana’s long-suffering public school system, and give low-income students a way out of failing schools.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who played key roles in the passage of both bills, blasted the LFT’s stance, especially knowing that the state has long ranked near the bottom nationally on most public school surveys.

“It just shows that the leadership of the union doesn’t get it,” Appel said.

The two laws were hot topics during the group’s 48th annual meeting, which ended last week in Baton Rouge.

The three-day convention passed resolutions urging state legislators to either repeal the laws or make wholesale changes in them.

Monaghan said House and Senate members need to hear from teachers over and over.

“Keep your list and check it twice,” he said.

Monaghan said a political tsunami is needed to force lawmakers to act, especially since the bills dominated the attention of legislators from the first day of the 2012 session.

Both bills won final approval by comfortable margins.

The tenure bill, known in legislative circles as Act 1, passed the House 60-43 and the Senate 23-16.

The voucher measure, known as Act 2, won House approval 60-43 and cleared the Senate 24-15.

Both face court challenges from the LFT in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

Hearings are set for Wednesday on Act 2 and Dec. 17 on Act 1.

In each case, the losing side is expected to appeal any ruling.

That means it will be months before the last word comes down, likely from the state Supreme Court.

Larry Samuel, an attorney for the LFT, said both laws are legally flawed.

“They were done in a very rushed manner,” Samuel said. “They were railroaded through.”

Among other arguments, the LFT contends the laws are unconstitutional because they include more than one subject.

Opponents also contend that it is illegal for the state to send state tax dollars reserved for public schools to private and parochial schools.

Attorneys for the state have said they are confident both laws will survive.

Appel said the laws represent bold efforts to upgrade public schools.

“If you want to talk about things to make it better we can make it better,” he said of the LFT.

“But I don’t want to water it down,” Appel added.

LFT leaders cited the two laws as among a host of examples of a year when, they say, public school teachers, teacher unions and others in the public school establishment were under political assault.

“We know that we have a tough climate out there,” said Heidi Glidden, an official of the American Federation of Teachers, which is the LFT’s national affiliate.

Officials of the group also produced a short film, which they emphasized was a light-hearted spoof, that showed the LFT’s sign outside of its southeast Baton Rouge office being repeatedly blown up by a Star Wars-like rocket launcher.

The last image showed the state Department of Education getting blown up, setting off cheers and laughter from the audience.