Union sings protests at state court
A second Louisiana teachers’ union sued the state Friday, claiming two new education reform laws pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal illegally divert public funding to private and parochial schools.
The Louisiana Association of Educators’ lawsuit comes on the heels of two suits filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers on June 7, also in state district court in Baton Rouge.
The LAE suit and one of the LFT suits both challenge Jindal’s voucher program. The unions object to the use of the state’s public school financing formula to pay for tuition to private and parochial schools.
The LAE suit attacks the constitutionality of Act 2 — the so-called voucher bill, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 — the Minimum Foundation Program resolution, of the recently concluded legislative session.
Act 2 would, among other things, expand eligibility for some students to obtain state-financed vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.
“Act 2 and SCR 99 are unconstitutional because they violate ... the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 by diverting, to non-public schools and other non-public entities, funds that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools to insure a minimum foundation of education in those public elementary and secondary schools,’’ the LAE suit contends.
The suit’s plaintiffs include the LAE, 47 of its local affiliates and seven public school employees.
Jindal said in a statement it is “unacceptable’’ that 44 percent of the Louisiana’s public schools are failing; 225,000 students are below grade level; and the state is spending $1 billion a year on failing schools. He said Louisianians “demand and deserve better.’’
“Holding up these reforms in court will only deny parents and students the opportunity to escape failing schools. Our kids do not get a second chance to grow up,’’ the governor added.
A large banner hanging Friday outside the LAE state headquarters in Baton Rouge proclaimed “Judgment Day’’ and stated “Better Solutions vs Bad Bills.’’
LAE President Joyce Haynes addressed LAE affiliates from across Louisiana at the headquarters Friday morning before they boarded a bus and headed for the 19th Judicial District Courthouse to sing protest songs and file their suit.
“Act 2 really is about taking MFP money,’’ Haynes told the group. “You have a governor who’s willing to sell anything, even our public schools.’’
The LAE suit was assigned to state District Judge Tim Kelley, who also has been assigned the LFT suit which attacks the voucher bill.
The other LFT suit challenges a law which makes it harder for teachers to earn and retain tenure, which is a form of job protection. That suit was assigned to state District Judge Mike Caldwell.
Asked why the LAE did not challenge the tenure law, Haynes said the LAE is saving its resources but will take legal action if a teacher loses tenure because of the new law.
The LAE and LFT suits also claim the process for passing a package of Jindal-sought education changes violated the state Constitution. The key argument is that the bills illegally bundled what should have been multiple proposals into single pieces of legislation.
The LAE and one of the LFT suits also challenge how the Minimum Foundation Program was approved June 4, which was the last day of the nearly three-month session.
In Louisiana, public school aid goes through a formula, the MFP. This year it provides $3.4 billion in basic state aid for school operations and about 700,000 students statewide.
Most bills require a majority of the 105-member House, which is 53 votes. But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, ruled that, as a resolution, it only required a majority of those in the chamber and voting. SCR 99 passed the House 51-49.
The suits say that, as such, the measure failed to win a majority of the House as required by the state Constitution.
The LAE and LFT lawsuits seek preliminary injunctions to halt implementation of the new rules while the suits and any appeals play out.