In Louisiana’s fierce education debates, policies sometimes are getting shaped more by what occurs in the courtroom than in the classroom.
More than a half dozen pending lawsuits involve disputes over classroom standards, education financing and decision-making authority in local school districts. The most recent was filed last week, challenging $60 million in charter school funding.
Nearly all the lawsuits stem from policy decisions made by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who has put a strong focus on reworking education programs since taking office in 2008 and has adopted a bulldoze-past-opponents approach in pushing his ideas.
The highest-profile disagreement centers on Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards. Three lawsuits are tied to that issue alone.
Jindal once supported the math and English benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states. But he’s since changed his position, saying President Barack Obama’s administration has manipulated use of Common Core to try to control local education policy and curriculum.
Lawmakers, Jindal’s hand-picked education superintendent and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education won’t strip the standards from classrooms, however. So, the fight has shifted to federal and state courts.
Jindal used his authority over state contracting to block the education department from buying testing material aligned with Common Core. Parents and teachers who support the standards, joined by BESE, sued the governor and won. A state judge lifted the testing contract suspension. Jindal is appealing the decision.
Anti-Common Core efforts were defeated in a second lawsuit, when a state judge rejected claims from a group of state lawmakers who alleged that education leaders didn’t follow the law in adopting the new standards.
The governor isn’t awaiting the outcome of appeals at the state court level in his attempt to jettison Louisiana’s use of Common Core. He’s filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing the U.S. Department of Education of illegally manipulating federal money and regulations to force states to adopt the standards. A Nov. 20 hearing date has been set.
In other education policy areas, Jindal has been in a near-constant argument with teacher unions and local school boards, who have returned to court again and again to challenge the governor.
Jindal’s use of the public school financing formula to pay for his voucher program — a move backed by BESE and lawmakers — sparked the first education lawsuits against the governor.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the state school board association objected to the voucher program’s financing. They won their lawsuit, with the Louisiana Supreme Court declaring the use of the public school formula to pay for vouchers unconstitutional. Jindal and lawmakers continue to fund vouchers, now outside of the public school formula.
But the high court’s ruling in the voucher case also declared the Legislature didn’t properly pass the 2012-13 school funding formula.
That decision led to a lawsuit from school boards and the Louisiana Association of Educators, claiming school districts were owed $200 million more than the state was providing because the formulas weren’t properly approved for three years. A state judge dismissed the lawsuit.
The LAE’s lawyer says an appeal is planned while another lawsuit was filed challenging the 2013-14 school funding formula on similar grounds. Assigned to a different judge, that lawsuit is still pending.
A ruling is awaited from the Louisiana Supreme Court in a lawsuit seeking to throw out a 2012 education law rewrite pushed by Jindal that contained teacher tenure changes and a revamp of the powers of local school boards and superintendents. A state judge declared the law unconstitutional because it crammed too many items in one bill. Jindal appealed to the high court.
Meanwhile, attorneys will be back in court for a new lawsuit filed last week over the use of the public school financing formula to pay for certain types of charter schools outside of parish and city school systems. Jindal has supported the financing. The Louisiana Association of Educators claims it’s illegal.
As they wait for final rulings on the list of lawsuits, education leaders and policy-watchers also wonder when the next one will be filed.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.