Is A Split In The Works Between Louisiana’s Teacher Unions?

Potentially, yes.

Yesterday we broke the story of the Louisiana Association of Educators’ threats to sue private schools participating in the state’s new voucher program if they didn’t pull out of it by 4 p.m. today. The LAE’s attorney Brian Blackwell said in that letter, which went out to all of the 117 private schools who have agreed to take voucher students, that it was the union’s position that the law was unconstitutional and any state money distributed under the law would constitute an essentially illicit expenditure.

Blackwell then gave the schools in question some 32 hours to sign a pre-written letter to Education Superintendent John White pulling out of the voucher program – or else he said he’d have no choice but to sue the schools.

This has understandably become a major issue around the state, and the proponents of school choice in Louisiana have become white-hot about it as one might imagine.

But under the surface is something interesting; namely, that Blackwell’s letter yesterday seems to have exposed a rift between the two unions representing teachers in Louisiana.

Many people think the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the state’s other teachers’ union, is a bit more effective and sophisticated than LAE is. And during the debate over education reform at the Legislature this spring there certainly appeared to be a difference between the two – not as to ideology or perspective, but more as to strategy and tactics.

Steve Monaghan, the Mark Twain doppleganger who heads the LFT, comes off as a lobbyist – and he’s most often heard discussing the policy implications of legislation on the state’s educational systems. Joyce Haynes, the LAE’s leader, is a bit more down to earth. And strident. Not to mention quite unpersuasive.

And a little less sophisticated as well.

As an example, when the education reform plan passed in the state legislature, both union bosses talked about recalling Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or several of his allies in the House. Monaghan made a now-infamous speech on the Capitol steps in which he worked the word “recall” into his narrative some 30 times in a 10-minute address.

But when the recall efforts got started, it was mostly LAE muscle behind them. In fact, LAE’s board unanimously endorsed the recall efforts.

LFT? Not exactly.

Other good citizens, respectful of the law and acting within their constitutional rights, felt obligated to launch a petition to recall the governor.

We believe that what began as a spontaneous citizens’ response to a perceived betrayal of trust should remain just that: a grassroots effort by concerned individuals.

We are also very aware that the law is heavily weighted in favor of incumbents in such an effort. Nearly one million signatures must be collected by September 1 to trigger a recall election. That’s nearly 300,000 more votes than the governor received in 2011. It’s only slightly less than the total votes cast for all candidates.

Put another way: “discretion is the better part of valor.”

Or in other words, Monaghan riled up the troops and then got out of the way, while Haynes waded into an impossible fight.

And when it came to filing lawsuits about the education reform acts, Monaghan was first out of the gate. Haynes’ suit came later. The cases were then consolidated by the courts, but that doesn’t mean the two unions are tactically identical.

We can say that because Monaghan wants no part of the PR disaster LAE has waded into by suing schools. One of our shadowy-political-insider sources joked yesterday that Haynes needs to get Blackwell to stop working on the middle man and send demand letters to the voucher parents threatening to sue them as well. Monaghan won’t put himself in such a position.

We asked Monaghan yesterday via Facebook if LFT was involved in the LAE/Blackwell letters to the voucher schools – specifically (1) if his union was involved in those letters and (2) if, considering that the suits have been consolidated, Blackwell was speaking for LFT by coming after the voucher schools.

His answer…

“Scott, the simple answer to both your questions is “no.” To be very clear, (1) LFT has no involvement with the letter. (2) Mr Blackwell is not speaking for me or LFT. LFT filed its constitutional challenges on June 7th, the LAE on June 22nd and LSBA on June 29th. All were consolidated under the LFT suit.”

Asked for a general comment on LAE’s actions, he said this…

Our response is an adherence to our position during the session, when we filed our challenges on June 7th. Our quarrel, for lack of a better word at the moment, remains with decision-makers. Central to our legal challenge(s) are constitutional and statutory matters. Our quarrel is not with children or schools. From our position, shoddy legislation, and a more than suspect legislative process, have placed all children in all schools at risk.

It seems fair to characterize that as a departure from LAE’s “damn the torpedoes” actions yesterday. It also seems fair to surmise that Monaghan is shaking his head at the foolishness of the LAE.

But here’s a question we doubt Monaghan would ever answer publicly: is he silently giddy about LAE’s dumb gambit yesterday? If Haynes and her crew tube their credibility by earning remembrance as the education union which sued to keep kids from going to school, wouldn’t that serve as a potential inducement for LFT to gain some membership and support as the “reasonable adults” among the teachers’ unions?

Being the only major head of a teachers’ union in the state is better than being one of two, no? Particularly if you’re not going to have any real political power anyway.

Monaghan’s already demonstrated he’s a bit slick when it comes to letting others take on impossible missions while he stands on the sidelines. It looks like he might be doing it again.



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