June 28, 2012
Louisiana School Boards Association
Contact: Bob Hammonds, LSBA Legal Counsel
BATON ROUGE—A third lawsuit today was filed in state district charging that Gov. Bobby Jindal and the legislature violated the Louisiana Constitution when enacting Act 2 of R.S. 2012.
The action was taken on behalf of more than 30 local school boards working through the Louisiana School Boards Association, according to Robert Hammonds, legal counsel to LSBA and many of the local districts involved.
"All elected officials, including school board members, are required to take an oath of office that pledges to uphold the Constitution and laws of the State,” observed John Smith, president of LSBA and a school board member in St. Charles Parish.
"To the best of our ability, the members of LSBA operate mindful of our oath,” he added. "We have a right to expect that the Governor and members of the Legislature do likewise, and we have both a right and a civic duty to challenge them when we feel that they have failed to do so.”
"The Constitution was approved by the voters of the state”, according to Hammonds, "and, if the state wants to act contrary to its provisions, the Legislature should put before the voters the changes it wants to see. Until those changes are approved by the voters of the state, however, the existing provisions apply and cannot be disregarded by the Governor, the Legislature, or the school boards bringing this action.”
One of those constitutional requirements is that all bills receive majority vote of the membership of both houses to become effective. The vote on the MFP concurrent resolution (SCR 99) in the House of Representatives was 51 in favor, 49 opposed, and 5 not voting. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, ruled that the resolution had been approved. When he was questioned by other representatives about how it could have passed since it did not get majority vote of the 105 member House of Representatives, he stated that the House had a "long history” of violating the Constitution.
The LSBA-coordinated legal action is mounted against the Act 2 part of Gov. Jindal’s capitalist education reform package. Vouchers, legacy charter schools, and other parts of the reform program included in SCR 99 will siphon from the public school systems the limited dollars received from the state for public education. There has been no increase in state funding of public education for the last four years, despite ever increasing costs to the school systems for state-mandated retirement and group health insurance costs, among other expenditures.
"The lawsuit alleges that Act 2 and SCR 99 violate the Constitution by diverting money to non-public schools when the Constitution mandates the funds be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools to insure a minimum foundation of education in those public schools,” said Hammonds. The suit also alleges that part of the public dollars to be distributed to non-public schools, groups, and programs in Act 2 and SCR 99 comes from locally generated tax revenues. The tax propositions passed by the voters in each local school system call for the funds generated by those measures to be used for the benefit of the students and employees of that system, though, and not for the support of private and parochial schools and their employees.
Gov. Jindal claims that Act 2 gives parents the opportunity to escape failing schools. He has touted the state’s RSD schools as models of educational reform despite the fact that 100 percent of direct-run RSD schools have received grades of "D” or "F” and 79 percent of the RSD charter schools have received grades of "D” or "F”, according to Smith. "It makes no sense – educationally or financially – to take more than $150,000,000 from public school systems in the state to fund state-run and state-supervised programs that are less successful than those operated on the local level.
A preliminary hearing on the LSBA case, which will be consolidated with the cases filed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, is expected July 10, Hammonds said. "It is significant that the LSBA, the LFT, and the LAE have similar concerns about Act 2 and SCR 99 and the impact of such legislation on the future of public education in this state. We will be working together to bring those concerns to the attention of the court in the clearest and most concise fashion.”