On June 4, the 2012 Regular Legislative Session ended as it had begun – in a “chaotic legislative debate.”
Governor Jindal may boast of victory for steamrolling a package of dubious education “reforms” through the legislature, but many now are asking: What was won, and at what cost?
The session left in its wake a sour taste for an orchestrated process and a legacy of lawsuits. The LFT, as promised, filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of both Acts 1 and 2 on June 7. Later, the LAE and the Louisiana School Board Association also filed lawsuits challenging Act 2. All three challenges to Act 2 have been consolidated under the LFT lawsuit.
We understand that elections have consequences. The power to govern rightfully belongs to those who are elected. However, we also believe that campaigns should not be perpetual. When a campaign ends, the responsibility to govern begins. Unfortunately, ideology has trumped policy. Louisiana suffers, our communities suffer, our schools suffer, our teachers suffer, and our children suffer because the campaign season did not end in November, 2011.
Choices were made to vilify teachers. Choices were made to frame public schools as failures. Choices were made to blame the unions, the school boards, and/or anyone who dared question the governor’s agenda.
Consider the manner in which the governor achieved his “victory”:
- Demonizing teachers, school boards, and labeling all doubters as “agents of the
- Equating teachers to drug dealers and violent criminals in his January speech to
- Muscling the Minimum Foundation Program through BESE in a specially called
- Bundling numerous laws into two bills, limiting full and informed debate.
- Limiting access to the capitol while these bills were being considered.
- Bullying, browbeating and arm-twisting legislators to get his way.
- Dramatically amending bills at the last minute to change their intent.
- Ignoring the constitution and well established past practices to win at all costs.
These created what a Baton Rouge Advocate editorial referred to as “a mess”, the product of leadership interested “in winning a legislative fight, not crafting a better educational program for the state’s children.”
It was a session of "by any means necessary.” The results were so flawed that when the news broke about the inadequacy of voucher schools, our state superintendent of education’s prime interest became “creating a story and muddying up the narrative”.
It did not have to be that way. Consider how much better off we would be today if only…
- If during the governor’s December 2011 “listening tour,” he had really listened: He might have learned that teachers care deeply about children, that they are committed to their profession and communities.
- If Governor Jindal had met with teachers and held public town hall meetings before the session: He might have learned that there are solid, research-based reforms, which have a proven record of enhancing student achievement.
- If our governor had made one really big issue, like early childhood education, the centerpiece of reform: He might have found committed allies in the education community.
- If our governor had demanded “no shortcuts” with respect to the Louisiana Constitution: There could have been a full discussion of each of his ideas in separate bills.
- If national ambitions had not infected the entire process: All could have worked together — teachers, school employees, school boards, parents and others — to find common ground in support of Louisiana-based solutions to the broad range of problems we face.
Sadly, governance took a back seat to politics. Tragically, the governor chose to fight rather than collaborate. Political brute force was the weapon of choice. So, while it is not a fight that we started or that we chose to have, it is a battle we must wage.
What the governor proposed and the legislature passed is not sound educational policy. The constitution and the long-standing legislative process were simply ignored. Therefore, we were compelled to seek legal remedy. As we stated when we filed our challenges on June 7, 2012, “The passage of these laws has elevated our legal challenges to acts of civic responsibility.”
But, to be very clear, we do need your help. If you’re not a member of the Federation, please join us. Sign up for our updates, contact local lawmakers, attend school board meetings, and share with us your suggestions and your best ideas. Become an activist for education.
Together, we can decide that it doesn't have to be this way. We can elect leaders who are a reflection of that decision. Our profession, our schools, communities, and our lives will all be better for the effort. We can turn the “What if” into “What is.”
Steve Monaghan, President