Legislature looks at reforming unconstitutional tenure law

February 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A 2012 law making it easier to fire tenured teachers and more difficult for new teachers to earn tenure was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Legislators will now look at reforming the law so that it can withstand a constitutional test.

Advocates of teacher tenure say tenure provides protection for teachers by only allowing them to be fired for just cause, such as engaging in unethical or illegal behavior. Those in favor of reforming tenure claim the protection provided by such laws allows ineffective teachers to stay employed.

The latest Supreme Court ruling overturning teacher tenure reform is the most recent part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping education reform package, which included taking funds meant for public schools and providing them to private schools, passed by the state legislature in 2012 to be ruled unconstitutional.

While the state is appealing the Supreme Court ruling, the 2014 legislative session is getting ready to kick off and lawmakers have already indicated their intent to again pursue changes to the teacher tenure reform law.

St. Charles School Board Member John Smith said the tenure law that was ruled unconstitutional goes against the democratic process.

“The current law, as it was enacted, says that the teachers (who are being fired) are not entitled to a hearing before a board,” he said. “The superintendent would appoint a tribunal to hear a complaint. That goes against the democratic process that the person who is requesting your termination is also the one responsible for appointing the board to oversee your case.”

Given that St. Charles Public Schools recently increased its lobbying effort by contracting lobbyist Dannie Garret to work on behalf of the school system for 12 months out of the year, rather than just during the three-month legislative session, Smith said he feels those on the front lines will have more of a say in any changes that may be coming.

In addition to local representation for St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Baton Rouge, existing organizations such as the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), which represents over 21,000 teachers and school personnel throughout the entire state, are also working on providing proper representation for teachers in the legislative process.

Steve Monaghan, LFT president, said he believes not only the teacher tenure law and other education reforms that were enacted in the 2012 legislative session led to a 28 percent increase in the number of teachers who retired last year, thereby taking more effective teachers out of the classroom.

“The bottom line becomes frustration over conditions,” he said. “The classroom teacher is finding situations becoming increasingly intolerable. So you have young teachers who leave, you have teachers who are close to retirement who retire early and then there are those in the middle of their career who don’t have enough time in to retire but are too invested to quit and feel stuck.”

The LFT has entered into negotiations with lawmakers about proposed changes to the teacher tenure law, but Monaghan is quick to stress that any resolution of the situation will take time.

“What they have created has generally been a mess for all parties,” he said. “We have a law that is duct taped together and it is not functioning properly, it can’t function properly. More moderate voices need to be included.”

Monaghan stressed that the governor and the state legislature need to look more closely at any law before it is passed to ensure it does not violate constitutional requirements as the 2012 laws did.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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