Judge revisiting challenge of teacher tenure law
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Baton Rouge judge who is reconsidering his decision to throw out Gov. Bobby Jindal's revamp of teacher tenure and salary laws said Friday that he'll issue his new ruling in January.
Judge Michael Caldwell ruled in March that the legislation was unconstitutional because it bundled together too many items spanning Louisiana's education laws. But the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Caldwell's decision in May and asked him to re-evaluate his ruling.
Caldwell heard new arguments Friday and said he will release his decision Jan. 8.
The Supreme Court said its opinion in a separate education case involving Jindal's statewide voucher program contains 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.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit challenging the 2012 legislation, 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.
Larry Samuel, a lawyer for the teachers union, said the objectives should have been spread out among multiple bills. He said 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 close review of these statutes shows that it's a hodge-podge of different objects," Samuel said.
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.
A law "can do a lot of things as long as it's all bound by one thread," he said.
When the case was sent back to Caldwell, the LFT 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.
A tenured teacher who is accused of being ineffective and is fired can request a review hearing before a three-person panel, with one person appointed by the school superintendent, one person appointed by the principal who did the firing and the other person chosen by a teacher. Samuel said that weights the hearing against the teacher.
"That's not a fair process," he said. "That's a feel-good hearing."
Faircloth said Act 1 gives the required notice and review process before a teacher is fired.
"It clearly meets the standard on minimal due process," he said.