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Louisiana Act 1: "Still Unconstitutional"

The Jindal administration and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a union, got to take a second bite of 2012’s Act 1 when the state Supreme Court sent the issue of the law’s constitutionality back to district court for a re-hearing.

19th District Judge R. Michael Caldwell says the apple is still poisoned, ruling again that the measure, sometimes called the “teacher tenure law”, is unconstitutional.

“I am still of the opinion that Act 1 violates the ‘single object’ rule for legislative measures, and I find that it is still unconstitutional,” Caldwell said when delivering his ruling on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White responded to the ruling with a media teleconference, saying the administration would appeal. He also delivered a warning.

“As this process continues, this remains the law of this state until the state Supreme Court says it is not. Act 1 remains in effect and will be enforced as such,” White told the press corps.

Act 1 of 2012 was a major part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reform package. The bill addressed a variety of issues, including teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, and teacher pay. It took decisions on those issues out of the hands of local school boards, putting the authority in the hands of principals and district superintendents. It also requires school systems to fire teachers rated “ineffective”, with half of a teacher’s rating based on their students’ scores on standardized tests.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers sued to challenge the constitutionality of the law three days after the 2012 legislative session adjourned, and the Jindal administration counter-sued. In December 2012, Judge Caldwell ruled that the first part of Act 1 – dealing with school boards, principals and superintendents – was unconstitutional, but he let the remainder of the law stand. The union requested a new trial, and in March 2013, Caldwell ruled Act 1 was “unconstitutional in its entirety.” The state appealed that decision.

The “one bill, one object” rule of lawmaking in Article 3, Section 15 of the Louisiana Constitution also was part of the lawsuits challenging Act 2, another part of the 2012 education reforms. When the Louisiana Supreme Court issued its rulings in those suits in May 2013, the justices issued guidelines for evaluating whether a law violates the “one object” rule. The state’s high court later returned the Act 1 case to Judge Caldwell, telling him to reconsider his ruling in light of their guidelines.

In delivering his current ruling, Judge Caldwell explained, “The Court requires a broader review of the entire bill, determining the law’s general purpose, and then checking to see if each provision has a natural connection to that purpose and is reasonably related to it. Further, the Court states that comprehensive or numerous provisions in a bill do not matter, as long as they are reasonably related to the purpose and have a natural connection to it.”

Caldwell told the parties to this suit that, after several month of studying Act 1, he “could not identify a unifying purpose or object, and only found some meager semblance of a unifying theme.”

Gov. Jindal, who was the guest speaker at the Baton Rouge Press Club less than an hour after Caldwell issued his ruling, told the assembled media representatives, “Obviously, we’re going to go back to the Supreme Court.”

When asked at what point the administration might stop the legal wrangling and go back to rewrite the education reforms so they comply with the state Constitution, Jindal lashed out at the plaintiffs in these lawsuits.

“My advice to the coalition for the status quo is that it’s time for them to stop fighting us in court,” Jindal said. “It’s time for them to stop the lawsuits and go to work with us to help improve education for our kids.”

During a conference call a few hours later, state Education Superintendent John White was asked about potential legislation to repair what are apparently faults in the education reforms. He said, “I haven’t talked with the heads of the Legislature’s Education Committees about that possibility. But as I see it now, we are going to continue to focus on defending these laws as they stand.”

White added that he expects the litigation will continue for several more years.