Published Online: July 2, 2010

La. Union Challenges School Waiver Bill

A teachers union Thursday challenged a new law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that will let public schools waive certain state education regulations.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, along with the East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parish chapters of the union, filed a lawsuit in state district court one day after Jindal signed the bill into law. It claims the waiver law is unconstitutional because it delegates legislative authority to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and because it carves out special exemptions for individual public schools.

The union seeks to throw out the law and immediately prohibit education board from using the waiver authority.

"We believe there is adequate, settled case law proving that the Legislature does not have the constitutional authority to delegate its responsibilities to an administrative body," said union lawyer Larry Samuel.

A spokesman for Jindal, Kyle Plotkin, has said the lawsuit is without merit and attempts to stop reform.

Under the measure sponsored by Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, public schools and school districts will be able to apply for four-year waivers of state laws or policies that superintendents believe restrict their ability to improve performance. They can set aside things like curriculum standards, length of school day, budget restrictions and student-to-teacher ratios.

The education board will decide whether to grant the waivers.

Jindal said the waivers can help troubled schools improve by giving them the flexibility allowed in charter schools, which are publicly financed but run without many of the requirements governing traditional public schools.

"For too long, we've bogged down our schools with regulations and red tape, and this new law will provide our schools with another tool they need to give our children a quality education," Jindal said in a statement announcing the bill signing Wednesday.

Teachers unions opposed the measure throughout the legislative session, fearful the waivers could be used to sidestep teacher salary and job protections. A requirement was added that any waiver application must receive the backing of a majority of teachers in a secret ballot at the school before it can be filed.

Superintendents also must get the backing of their local school boards to get a waiver, and low-performing schools have to agree to overhaul their school leadership. If they don't improve students' standardized test scores, they face state takeover.

Waivers can't apply to student safety, accountability standards, graduation requirements, teacher evaluation procedures or student nutrition.

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