Exactly What Is/Was Louisiana’s Act 1?
When I began my day today (March 4), I was to be evaluated using my students’ test scores. By mid-morning, this was no longer true. A Louisiana state judge, Michael Caldwell, had declared unconstitutional Act 1 of the 2012 Louisiana regular legislative session for its violating Article III, Section 15(A) of the Louisiana State Constitution, which states that every bill shall have one object.
Here is the title of Act 1 and the heart of the argument that, based upon its title, Act 1 includes more than one object:
AN ACT to amend and reenact R.S. 17:54 (B)(1)(b)(i) and (iii), and 81(A) and (P)(1), 81.4, 229, 414.1, 441, 442, 443, 444(B)(1), to enact R.S.17:418 and 532(C), and to repeal R.S. 17:44, 45, 81(I), 154.2, 235.1(E), 346.1, 419,419.1, 420, 421, 421.1, 421.2, 421.3, 421.5, 422, 422.1, 422.2, 422.3, 422.4, 422.5, 431, 444(A) and (B)(2) and (3), 446, 461 through 464, and 1207, relative to elementary and secondary education; to provide with respect to teachers and other school employees; to provide with respect to local superintendents, their employment, and their duties and their responsibilities; to provide relative to local school boards and their functions and powers; to provide relative to school personnel decisions; to provide relative to school board reduction in force policies; to provide with respect to the salaries and compensation of teachers and other school employees; to provide relative to tenure for school employees and the removal of tenured and nontenured teachers; to provide for effectiveness; and to provide for related matters.
The actual Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) lawsuit is here.
I certainly believe that Jindal and his predominately lackey legislature did indeed have “one object” in pushing this mammoth piece of legislation through at record speed: The dismantling of the teaching profession. However, their self-serving, malicious motive does not qualify as a legal “one object” per legislation.
As the day progressed, I found myself wondering about the exact details regarding what I had lost for the past 11 months and then regained today as a Louisiana teacher. I actually own a printed copy of Act 1. I originally read it last summer with sadness as in it I witnessed the impending butchering of my profession.
Today, I would like to revisit the document with a different perspective, one more of historian, as I take the time to process what Those in Power Who Think They Know tried by way of assaulting the noble profession of public school teacher.
Keep in mind that in referring to Act 1, I am referring to a document that is as of today divested of its power even though I write about it in the present tense.
Curiously, the legislative site from which I downloaded Act 1 is not currently active.
As LFT President Steve Monaghan notes,
Act One… amended and reenacted nine statutes, and enacted two entirely new statutes. It tied teacher salaries, tenure, promotions and termination to a new evaluation system. It changed the way school boards contract with superintendents, altered the general powers of school boards, delegated new authority to principals and superintendents and mandated different reduction-in-force policies.
I would like to offer specifics regarding Act 1, what it attempted to replace, and what it attempted to enact. Let me also point out the similarities between Louisiana’s Act 1 and ALEC’s Great Teachers and Leaders Act:
Both introduce a teacher/administrative rating system that includes a top category named “highly effective” and a bottom category named “ineffective.”
Both attempt to make 50% of a teacher’s evaluation based upon student achievement.
Both base the principal’s job security on “student achievement.”
Both attempt to end tenure by requiring districts to make reduction in force (RIF) decisions based on “performance” (i.e., the test score) rather than seniority.
Both attempt to castrate tenure by making it dependent upon test score gains over multiple years, with a loss of tenure resulting from “insufficient student growth” (test scores).
Both severely limit the power of local school boards while increasing the power of state boards/state superintendent.
Also present in Act 1 is the ALEC-birthed concept of letter-graded schools and school systems. This is the first modification made to the Act 1 document: the addition of “performance targets” for any district that has “any variation of a school performance letter grade of C, D, or F.” These performance targets have five components, the first of which is “student achievement” (test scores); next is student achievement for the subcategory of C, D, or F schools. Third and fourth are graduation rates overall and for the C, D, or F subcategory. Fifth is the percentage of teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” (Would not this final category encourage rating teachers in order to meet quotas?)
The next change requires (neutered) local school boards to notify the (micromanaging) state superintendent regarding nonrenewal of the local superintendent’s contract.
Following that comes the requirement that local school boards hire superintendents that “prioritize student achievement.” What qualified superintendent would not do this? However, the between-the-lines meaning here involves prioritizing the reformer-beloved test scores as the highest evidence of “student achievement.”
Next, the school boards are divested of their role in hiring teachers and negotiating terms of employment, such as salary and length of school year. Instead, this power is handed over to a single individual, the local superintendent. (On the next page, the following words have been stricken from the former document: “Nothing shall prevent a school board from rejecting the recommendations made by the superintendent and requiring the superintendent to submit additional recommendations.”)
Following this change comes one where certification is not mandatory; the words “as applicable” have been inserted, the implication being that the local superintendent could simply decide that certification were “not applicable.” This is a shady loophole for a local superintendent to hire non-certificated “teachers.”
Moving along: The school board is once again divested of its power as it must not longer “consult with” but instead “delegate to” principals “all decisions” (added) regarding the hiring or placement of any teacher or other
certificated personnel, “subject to the approval of the local superintendent” (added).
This “streamlined” process allows for a single person to ultimately be “in charge” of this top-down arrangement; in Louisiana’s case, that would be the state superintendent. No messy local boards to “interfere” with the micromanaged mandates of corporate reform.
The next change seems to me to be just “fluff”: The local superintendent must meet with a faculty to discuss the hiring or placing of a new principal. The teachers have no power here, just as they had no power when John White traveled the state last spring to “meet” with teachers and “listen” to their concerns before doing exactly what he wanted.
The next addition is one of the more publicized: The addition of words that “all employment decisions”… “shall be based upon performance, effectiveness, and qualifications”; “in no case shall seniority or tenure be used as the primary criterion when making decisions regarding the assignment, or dismissal of teachers or other school employees.” An entire section is stricken regarding the local school board’s role in approving or disapproving employment; added is “made by the superintendent or school principal.” Added also is the text that local school boards “delegate reduction in force decisions to the superintendent.” Numerous lines are stricken regarding specifics of local school board hiring practices.
Thanks to Judge Caldwell, John White is now going to be forced to deal with existent, re-vested local school boards. I wonder if Broad Superintendents Academy taught him how to do anything other than tell subordinates what to do while feigning concern.
Back to Act 1.
Stricken is the former (now reinstated) reduction in force ordering that “shall include but not be limited to the following minimum standards: 1) Certification, if applicable. 2) Seniority in the system. 3) Tenure of employees. 4) Academic preparation, if applicable, within the employee’s field.”
For some reason, the authors of this illegal, ALEC-modeled Act 1 felt the need to reiterate, “No reduction in force policy adopted by a local public school board shall include seniority or tenure as the primary criterion to be considered when instituting a reduction in force.”
The local school board’s authority over “visiting teachers and supervisors of child welfare and attendance” has also been stripped and handed to the local superintendent. According to Act 1, principals also are now “appointed by and serve under direction of the local superintendent of schools.”
The next section is a major addition to Act 1 entitled, “Salaries, Teachers, and Other School Employees.” In keeping with reformer priorities, salary is to be based upon “a) Effectiveness, as determined by the performance evaluation program…; b) Demand inclusive of area of certification, particular school need, geographic area, and subject area, which may include advanced degree levels; c) Experience. (no one area can account for more than 50% of the formula used to compute salary.) This section also guarantees that teachers/administrators rated “ineffective” get no raises.
The salary section also has a guard against not lowering a teacher or administrator salary below the previous year’s salary. However, this same wording enables a salary freeze (that is, it inadvertently explains how the superintendent is to institute a salary freeze). It is interesting also that this salary freeze guidance precedes a disclaimer that salary could be lowered if “a revenue source requiring voter approval” is not renewed.
Those words put me in mind of the Republican refusal to support millage renewals across the state in April 2012 and the ensuing “anti-millage” campaign to say no to “new” taxes. (Two of the three education millages up for renewal in my parish were 50 years old, and one was 30 years old, and Jindal lambasted them as “new” taxes. All three passed despite Jindal and his predominantly-Republican followers.)
Then comes the tenure section. Stricken is the three-year probationary period during which the local school board may dismiss a teacher “with valid reason.” Following this three years, if the school board has not provided in writing reason for not granting tenure, then the teacher becomes “a regular and permanent teacher in the employ of the school board… in which he has successfully served his three year probationary term….” Added is the nonsense about gaining tenure if one is rated “highly effective” (test scores account for 50%) for five out of six years. However, a tenured teacher rated “ineffective” immediately loses tenure.
Did it escape the authors of this bill just how stupid the above stipulation is? Obviously not, since they force a teacher in such a position to file a grievance. Common sense would tell any thinking person that such an erratic change as a plummet from the highest to the lowest evaluation category is likely not due to the teacher. However, in his Louisiana VAM pilot study, George Noell did illustrate that VAM is erratic and that it can and does produce such faulty classification as “highly effective-to-ineffective.”
Back to tenure. Act 1 notes that teachers paid out of federal funds shall not be eligible for tenure. Moreover, “a teacher who is not awarded tenure remains an at-will employee….”
According to Act 1, if the local superintendent decides to release a non-tenured employee, the superintendent need only give seven days’ notice. In the case of a grievance for faulty “ineffective” rating, the teacher in entitled to a hearing before a “tenure panel”; nevertheless, the superintendent holds all of the decision-making power and “may choose to reinstate the teacher.” The teacher then has 60 days to petition the court for a hearing regarding an “arbitrary or capricious” decision.
Let me note here that it is a corporate reformer ploy to tie up the courts and to manufacture situations that are more complex than necessary in an effort to wear people down and waste an individual’s time and money.
The final change in Act 1 is a kick in the teeth for any teacher who already feels that his/her future has been removed from his/her control: “…Evaluating the teacher’s performance as ‘ineffective’ shall constitute sufficient proof of poor performance, incompetence, or willful neglect of duty and no additional documentation shall be required to substantiate such charges.”
Unless, of course, you are a teacher at a magnet elementary, and you are declared ineffective because your very high scores are not rising high enough. And the representative from your district just happens to be one whose name appears on Act 1. In that case, John White Himself will drive to your far-away parish and declare you the exception.
For the record, these are the Louisiana representatives whose names appear atop Act 1: Carter, Kleckley, Broadwater, Champagne, Connick, Henry, Hensgens, Ligi, Lorusso, Ponti, Robideaux, Schroder, Seabaugh, Talbot, and Thompson. Also included are senators Alario and Appel.
You might be wondering, where to from here? Good question. The state says it will appeal, but given the length of the title of the bill and how obvious it is that it contains more than one object, I don’t see how a judge would reinstate Act 1.
In the same way that he has ignored the ruling of Act 2 unconstitutionality, John White might try to push school boards to continue to follow Act 1 even though Caldwell declared it unconstitutional. However, White would have to convince re-vested school boards to buy into such a scheme. Given Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard’s refusal to participate in White’s “voucher laundering,” I am pretty certain Richard would in no way assist White in any Act 1 foolishness.
Jindal could try to push Act 1 through the legislature next month in the form of several smaller bills. Yet the legislative climate is not as favorable toward Jindal as it was a year ago. Keep in mind that in the fall of 2012, Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard came within 5 signatures of achieving a vote for a special session in order to reconsider the budget. Jindal will soon face a less enchanted legislature. Frankly, I think passage of a number of anti-teacher bills would prove too difficult for Jindal to manage. After all, he went for the initial, mammoth bill for a reason: He could slide it through fast.
Bottom line: It’s a “wait and see.”
For now, I am going to enjoy the fact that not one single bubbled-letter test item has any impact upon my livelihood.
And I remain tenured.
And my seniority matters.