Steve Monaghan Sues Bobby Jindal, Draws Fire From School Reform Folks

It was a surprise neither that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers would sue the state over the educational reform package passed in the recently-completed legislative session nor that the suit would come within days of that session’s end.

So when the LFT launched their latest attack on behalf of the status quo today, the political enemies of its president Steve Monaghan were already locked and loaded.

Monaghan’s suit contains several allegations, the most important of which being one the educrats and their allies in the legislature made repeatedly during the legislative session; namely that it’s unconstitutional to fund the state’s new school voucher program through the Minimum Foundation Program, as the MFP can only fund public schools…

The Constitution requires the state school board to “annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems.” A later passage states again: “The funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems according to the formula as adopted by the … board.”

The crux of LFT’s argument is that those passages forbid MFP spending on anything other than public schools, those owned and operated by the state or its political subdivisions.

Among the other gripes aired in the suit are: that the MFP passed on a 51-49 vote, which the LFT says isn’t sufficient to pass a bill in the House (53 votes are required, they say, though House Speaker Chuck Kleckley ruled that the MFP vote was on a resolution and therefore a 51-vote majority was sufficient), that the constitution requires a 2/3 vote to pass a bill considered at the end of a legislative session (which would invalidate the state’s budget if their interpretation was given any credence) and that the teacher tenure reform bill in the education package needed to be a bunch of separate bills.

The Jindal administration through spokesman Aaron Baer didn’t really address the legal substance of the suit, but they tossed out a number of Jindal’s talking points in machine-gun fashion shortly after Monaghan’s suit was filed this morning…

Today the coalition of the status quo will make good on their promise to do everything in their power stop bold, transformative, and necessary reforms from being implemented.

Make no mistake; the lawsuit filed today is nothing more than the latest salvo in the special interests quixotic quest to preserve an educational system that is failing far too many children.

The unions are effectively waging a war on parents, students, and Louisiana’s future.

As the coalition of the status quo desperately clings to the failed policies of the past, let’s remember what this lawsuit is really all about…

  • It’s about putting the interests of adults over kids.
  • It’s about funding buildings not students.
  • It’s about preserving an education system where a third of students still are scoring below grade level. That’s 225,000 kids.
  • It’s about trusting government bureaucrats over parents to make the best choices for children.
  • It’s about keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom.
  • It’s about doing things the way Louisiana’s always done them and expecting different results.
  • It’s about saying “tough luck” to parents who can’t afford to move in to a better school district or send their child to private school.
  • It’s about denying parents the opportunity to see their children live out the American Dream.

No one ever expected the coalition of the status quo to give up its monopoly without a fight, but this is a fight they cannot win.
Louisiana’s children deserve an opportunity to a great education.

Governor Jindal’s reforms give them that chance.

Case closed.

Not to be outdone, a coalition of school-choice and education reform groups also let fly with a response to the suit today…

In an anticipated move, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers today filed lawsuits against the state’s recently passed education reform laws, prompting a swift response from a group of statewide reform organizations and concerned parents who fought the legislative battle to pass the reforms that will benefit thousands of families.

The lawsuits take aim at Acts 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session. The goals of the threatened reforms, many of which are in the beginning stages of implementation, include expanding school choice to children in low-performing schools, reforming teacher tenure standards, empowering educators, and removing barriers to entry for charter schools, among others.

A broad cross-section of statewide reform organizations decried the lawsuits and the adverse effect it stands to have on Louisiana families and students. Among the groups standing together against the lawsuits and in support of the reforms are the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Council for A Better Louisiana, Louisiana Federation for Children, Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and Stand for Children Louisiana.

Parents, like Steve Cook in Baton Rouge, recognize the potential negative impact this will have on children across the state.

“What concerns me is what the suits will entail,” Cook said. “To enter into court will damage education seriously in Louisiana and while the process is being argued, children will suffer.”

The filing of the lawsuits aims to slow down important improvements to the state’s public school system, which have given hope to many parents throughout the Bayou State whose children are trapped in schools that are poorly performing and not serving their academic needs. In addition, it risks the ability for school superintendents and school leaders to be empowered to make critical decisions that would ensure all students have access to a great teacher and principal.

“These new laws have given me faith that my child will have a brighter future and chance at success—something that hasn’t ever been a reality,” said Catina Dunn, a parent who lives in Baker, La. “To be denied the right to a quality education is unfair for my child and all other children who deserve an opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

Supporters of the education reforms noted that these legislative reforms were fiercely debated, but at end of the day, parents and taxpayers prevailed, and these reforms reflect the will of the people of Louisiana. Any effort to slow down or stop these measures, the groups said, flies in the face of opportunity and educational equality.

“The futures of so many children, as well as our great state, are depending on these much-needed reforms to public education,” said Eric Lewis, state director of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. “We urge the Louisiana Federation of Teachers to reconsider these lawsuits and instead focus on the more important goal of increasing student achievement and school improvement.”

It’s unlikely Monaghan’s suit will get anywhere, as legal tradition not just in Louisiana but virtually everywhere is to give a wide berth in constitutional interpretation to state legislatures. Furthermore, there is nothing in the constitution which explicitly restricts MFP dollars to public school systems, and the bet here is when it’s all said and done the courts will find that so long as the MFP is being used to fund the education of the state’s schoolchildren the legislature will be held to have discretion as to the definition of that education.

But since the LFT can’t get a sufficient number of politicians elected to stop school choice and education reform, and since it hasn’t won over the public or the legislature with its arguments through the legislative process, its last stand will be made in the courts.

One wonders, given the hit teachers’ unions have taken in states (among them Wisconsin) where dues cannot be automatically withdrawn from paychecks, when such a bill will be passed in the Louisiana legislature. Certainly such a provision would constitute a solid bit of revenge for Monaghan’s lawsuit, and there was a bill – HB 88, by Rep. Bob Hensgens – which couldn’t get out of the House and Governmental Affairs committee this year.

Look for that bill to come up in next year’s legislative session, with significantly more support.

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