Teacher tenure, salary laws lawsuit sent back to district court

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court asked a district judge Friday to review his decision to throw out Gov. Bobby Jindal's revamp of teacher tenure and salary laws.

Baton Rouge Judge Michael Caldwell had ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional because it bundled together too many items spanning Louisiana's education laws. The high court ruling returns the case to district court for reevaluation.

The Supreme Court said its recent opinion in a separate education case involving Jindal's statewide voucher program contains new case law that could help Caldwell with the decision.

Caldwell had sided with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, saying the objectives should have been spread out among multiple bills.

The Supreme Court's ruling vacates Caldwell's decision.

Caldwell had thrown out a law, known as Act 1, that limited the authority of local school boards, made it harder for teachers to reach the job protection status of tenure and eliminated statewide teacher pay scales.

Jindal issued a statement saying he was encouraged that the case will be reconsidered.

"This law ensures that we can reward effective teachers, support ineffective teachers who want to improve and put a great teacher in every classroom so that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed," the governor said.

LFT spokesman Les Landon said the teachers union doesn't interpret the Supreme Court decision as a suggestion that Caldwell should change his decision that the law is unconstitutional.

"We're confident that after briefs are re-filed and arguments are heard again, we believe Judge Caldwell will come to the same conclusion that he did the last time," Landon said.

Caldwell had discarded a series of sweeping education changes pushed by Jindal in the 2012 legislative session that:

—Lessened the power of local school boards over hiring and firing decisions.

—Required the state superintendent's review of local school superintendent contracts.

—Removed seniority-based protections for teachers during layoffs.

—Toughened the path for teachers to reach tenure status.

—Struck down a statewide salary schedule for teachers.

The LFT argued the bill violated a constitutional provision requiring legislation to have one object, which is designed to give lawmakers the ability to properly comb through proposals and weigh their impact.

A lawyer for the Jindal administration argued that all parts of the bill were related to teacher performance and could be included together under the constitution.

In returning the case to Caldwell, the Supreme Court referred to its May ruling in a separate lawsuit filed by the LFT that challenged the financing of Jindal's voucher program that sends students to private schools with taxpayer dollars.

The high court declared that paying for vouchers through the public school funding formula was unconstitutional and also said lawmakers didn't properly pass that formula last year.

But the court rejected the LFT's argument that the voucher bill contained too many objectives in violation of the Louisiana Constitution. That language was what the court referenced in sending the teacher tenure bill ruling back to Caldwell.

Superintendent of Education John White said he was encouraged that Caldwell was told to review his decision.

"Act 1 empowers school leaders to choose the best teachers for their students. It rewards good teaching and protects top teachers in the event of layoffs. Special interests have opposed these common sense ideas," White said in a written statement.

MELINDA DESLATTE,Associated Press

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