Teachers Union Challenges Louisiana ‘Red Tape’ Reform

Published August 13, 2010

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has filed suit to overturn a new law allowing public school districts and individual school principals to seek waivers from a host of state regulations. The Red Tape Reduction and Local Empowerment Act is intended to give struggling schools more flexibility to implement reforms and boost student academic performance.

Under the new law, public school districts can apply to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a four-year waiver of particular education regulations.

The union’s lawsuit alleges the law is unconstitutional because the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education lacks the authority to make waiver decisions, something only the legislature may do.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jane Smith (R-Bossier City), said she is “perplexed” by the claim and “the lawsuit is without merit.”

‘Critical Piece of Legislation’

At a bill-signing ceremony, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said the law gives schools greater autonomy for implementing reforms and will “especially benefit struggling schools, giving them the ability to scale up reforms needed to dramatically improve student achievement and avoid state takeover.”

Jindal signed House Bill 1368 into law on June 30. The union filed its lawsuit July 1.

Brigitte Nieland, director of the Education and Workforce Development Council at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the new law is a “critical piece of legislation” and “for years local education officials have had their hands tied and didn’t have the flexibility to focus on student performance.”

She notes except for certain regulations involving student safety, child nutrition, school accountability, and graduation requirements, “everything else is on the table.”

Law Gives Teachers Veto

The law essentially allows public schools to emulate charter schools. Smith, a former school superintendent, said she included all the key education stakeholders throughout the months-long legislative process—including superintendents, principals, and teachers.

“I am excited that public school districts can take advantage of flexibility that charter schools already have,” Smith said.

A superintendent cannot submit a waiver request without “buy-in” from the local school board and teachers. Teachers, superintendents, and school boards can choose to submit a waiver request only if they see the need for one.

“Teachers have a voice in this bill,” Smith explained, because any waiver request must have the support of a majority of teachers who vote in a secret ballot.

Despite the concession to teachers, the union opposed the bill over concerns waivers would threaten security of teachers’ salaries and jobs.

Necessary Flexibility

Jamison Beuerman, a policy analyst with the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy, says the law recognizes a “monolithic education policy does not suit the unique and disparate needs of schools around the state.”

Schools have unique challenges and unique cultures which demand different policies, such as changing class sizes, improving teacher evaluation processes, and adjusting curriculum, he explained.

“By waiving rigid policies, schools have the flexibility to take the necessary actions to accommodate their students,” he said.

Brooke Terry ([email protected]) writes from Texas.