Judge again strikes down Jindal education law

For the second time in less than a year, a state judge struck down a Louisiana law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that makes it more difficult for public-school teachers to earn and retain tenure.

The governor stressed the 2012 law remains in effect and promised state District Judge Mike Caldwell’s Wednesday ruling will be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The high court sent the case back to Caldwell in late May for reconsideration after the judge declared the law — known as Act 1 — unconstitutional in March.

The judge heard a new round of arguments from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the state in December.

Caldwell concluded Wednesday, as he did last year, that Act 1 illegally included multiple subjects in a single bill.

“I am still of the opinion that the act violates the single object requirement and is unconstitutional in its entirety,” the judge said from the bench.

Jimmy Faircloth, the state’s attorney in the case, disagreed outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse.

“I think it was clear error to strike the entire statute down,” he said.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which challenged the law, said the act requires performance objectives for local superintendents, redefines the role of local school boards, bans the exclusive use of seniority in layoff decisions and allows local officials to revamp salary schedules.

Jindal and other backers of Act 1 contend tougher tenure rules will improve teacher quality and student scores.

LFT President Steve Monaghan, who was in Caldwell’s courtroom for the ruling, extended an olive branch afterward to Jindal and state lawmakers.

“We’re willing to work with the Legislature and the governor,” he said. “The governor has the power. We don’t have that power. It is in the governor’s hands. It’s time to work together. ‘Enough is enough’ is a good cry.”

Jindal, who spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino shortly after Caldwell issued his ruling, said his administration is always happy to meet with anyone about student achievement but added, “We’re not going to back down from our efforts. We think the law as passed is constitutional.”

Monaghan said Louisiana experienced a 28 percent increase in teacher retirements and exits last year but said he does not know how many of those departures were motivated by Act 1.

“They’re leaving” for whatever reason, he said.

Jindal once again referred to opponents of Act 1 as the “coalition for the status quo.”

“We’ll continue to push to improve education for our kids. That’s what this law is designed to do,” the governor said.

“The law rewards effective teachers for their hard work and ensures that we have a great teacher in the classroom so that our children have the opportunity to succeed,” he added.

Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux applauded Caldwell’s decision and said the LAE remains open to collaborating with Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White to move Louisiana public schools in a positive direction, but she chided the governor for painting teachers as roadblocks to higher standards and accountability.

“Teachers want to be evaluated using multiple measures which are reliable, valid and proven to effectively assess the craft of teaching,” she said in a statement. “Student learning can be an indicator of teacher success, but should not be the singular focus of a teacher’s effectiveness, since the craft is intensely complex and multi-dimensional.”

White said he thinks the state Supreme Court will view the multiple-issue challenge in the tenure case the same way it did on a separate challenge to Louisiana’s expanded voucher program. The high court ruled in May that the voucher law did not violate the state’s ban on dual objects in a single bill.

“We believe in Act 1 because it rewards merit,” White said.

“We support the law because we believe it is good for kids. I have seen no evidence that it doesn’t work for kids.”

Even when the legal battle is resolved, he cautioned, there is a good possibility of more litigation.

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana in Baton Rouge, said the act’s sole intent is that schools and districts have the best faculty, personnel and instruction to help ensure strong student achievement.

“Every aspect of Act 1 was clearly aimed at this single goal. Hiring, assignment practices, compensation schedules, layoff procedures, accountability for administrators and evaluations tied to longtime job security are all essential components for giving students the quality faculty they need to learn and succeed in school,” he said in a statement.

Prior to originally declaring Act 1 unconstitutional in March, Caldwell ruled in December 2012 that the teacher tenure part of the act was constitutional but he struck down several other provisions.