JUNEAU: The LAE’s ‘Collateral Damage’

During the recent legislative session, several important pieces of education-related legislation passed that created considerable controversy. Perhaps the most controversial was one that granted school vouchers. Giving parents and students tickets out of schools with poor track records at keeping students at or above grade level is not a new concept. Yet wherever attempts are made to create or expand voucher programs, one thing is certain: public education employee unions will fight them frenetically. In the unions’ way of thinking, nothing is wrong with condemning students to failing schools based upon the street address where they live. If the result of protecting the public school monopoly is denying children a proper education, then, according to the unions’ way of thinking, students are just collateral damage in the war for education union dominance.

The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) stridently opposed the voucher legislation in the 2012 legislative session. Both filed lawsuits challenging the law as soon as Governor Jindal affixed his signature to the documents. Nevertheless, the LAE took it a step further; it has retained a law firm to threaten legal action against the private schools who agreed to accept over 5,000 students approved for vouchers. This is a new low, even for the LAE.

The LAE tried to get the district court to approve an injunction preventing the voucher system from taking effect in the new school year that starts in a matter of days. The judge assigned to the case refused to impose the injunction. The LAE appealed but also went a step further. Their lawyers sent a letter to every school participating in the program, demanding that they sign a form agreeing not to participate in the program and return it to them. The litigation threat was clearly communicated. The LAE, after losing the initial round of the legal battle in court, is trying to instill fear in the participating schools to intimidate them into dropping their participation in the program.

It is one thing for self-interested groups like the LAE to pull teachers out of their classrooms and storm the capitol when opposing legislation. It is something else entirely for them to strong-arm private schools that are willing to give children and their parents a chance to succeed.

For some time now, unions have been in decline in the U.S. There are numerous reasons why this is happening. One of those reasons is the growing distaste among the public for the intimidation tactics some unions use to try to get their way. A recent example of that was the tumult in Wisconsin when Governor Scott Walker proposed collective bargaining reforms designed to stop school systems from going bankrupt and being forced to lay off teachers. Governor Walker enacted reforms and survived union’s attempts to defeat a key state Supreme Court Justice, take over the state senate through recalls, and recall the governor himself. The reforms are working and bringing solvency and sanity back to the public education arena in Wisconsin (which was also the first state to enact a voucher program).

The LAE wasn’t a very popular entity before its most recent embrace of thuggery. It will be even less popular now. Any respect for it outside of its own ranks will be problematic until the LAE understands they cannot dismiss students with the most academic challenges as “collateral damage” in their war against reform.

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