LFT: Teachers are under attack

Public school teachers are “under attack” through so-called education reforms pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and others, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said Monday.

Steve Monaghan, who heads the group, said a series of events going back to the election of an overwhelmingly Jindal-friendly state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last year, and the passage of bills to overhaul public schools earlier this year, shows that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and public education have been targeted.

“We are definitely under attack,” he said.

Monaghan made his comments during the second day of the group’s 48th annual convention, which is being held in Baton Rouge.

The gathering follows a year of heated public school debates, and the passage of several bills backed by Jindal and vehemently opposed by teacher unions.

That list includes legislation to expand access to vouchers, which allows some low-income children who went to troubled public schools to attend private and parochial schools at state expense, and a measure that will make it harder for teachers to earn and keep a form of job protection called tenure.

The LFT has filed lawsuits asking the 19th Judicial Court District in Baton Rouge to strike down both laws. Hearings are set for Nov. 28 and Dec. 17.

Monaghan said promoters of sweeping public school changes have used a sledgehammer approach to pushing their agenda.

He said that, during legislative debates earlier this year, some teachers were locked out of the State Capitol and others were relegated to “overflow” committee rooms to watch the action elsewhere.

Monaghan said that, at one point in a legislative committee hearing, a teacher was asked whether he was using a sick day to appear at the State Capitol.

“If you don’t think it was a conscious attempt to intimidate, then you are missing the game,” he said.

Jindal and other backers of the public school overhaul said that 44 percent of public schools were rated D and F by the state last year. They said students and parents needed more options to escape failing public schools.

But Monaghan said that, while Jindal’s allies generally account for nine of BESE’s 11 members, attempts to inject LFT views into key debates are often given little notice. “You can do it right or you can take the battering ram,” Monaghan said, a reference to BESE leaders.

Monaghan said Jindal’s education agenda, which he outlined in January in a speech to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, included a “vilification” of public school teachers.

The LFT leader said that, in the past, teachers were seen as community leaders rather than as obstacles to improving public schools.

Bernard Taylor, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system and another speaker at the meeting, questioned some of the details of Louisiana’s expanded voucher program.

Taylor said that, in some cases, parents opt for private or parochial schools over public schools without knowing the track record of the school where they are moving their child.

He said there also appears to be an inordinate reliance on officials outside the state to recommend public school changes.

“I think there hasn’t been a concerted effort to find the local innovators,” Taylor told the group.