A judge on Monday struck down a 2010 Louisiana law that lets school districts seek four-year waivers from some education laws and rules in an effort to improve student achievement.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell agreed with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that the waiver law is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
An attorney for BESE told Caldwell the state will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review his ruling.
“We disagree with the ruling, and it must be appealed for the sake of Louisiana students,’’ Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press secretary, Kyle Plotkin, added later in the day.
When Jindal signed the Red Tape Reduction and Local Empowerment Act into law last year, he said the act would trim burdensome rules that hinder academic growth and aid low-performing schools on the verge of state takeover.
Critics countered it would be a mistake to let a state board suspend laws, regardless of the worthiness of the goals.
LFT President Steve Monaghan, who attended Monday’s court hearing, applauded Caldwell’s ruling afterward.
“It’s a lesson in civics as far as we’re concerned,’’ he said. “This is a good day for the rule of law. The Legislature simply does not have the right to hand off its responsibility to another branch of government.’’
Plotkin called it “disappointing and ironic’’ that a union would “obstruct the very reforms that will help teachers and most importantly, give schools more flexibility to provide our kids with a quality education.’’
Caldwell ruled from the bench that the three branches of government perform certain functions and it is the function of the Legislature to adopt laws.
“They cannot delegate the applicability of those laws,’’ the judge said.
LFT attorney Larry Samuel argued during the hearing that the Legislature “shifted’’ its constitutional authority to a state agency.
“We have the Legislature giving to BESE the authority to determine what the law should be,’’ he said. “This is unprecedented, your honor.’’
Samuel noted there are numerous state boards and asked the judge, “Where is this going to stop?’’
“They call it the Red Tape Reduction Act,’’ Samuel said. “To me, it’s the ‘if you don’t like the law you don’t have to follow it act.’ ”
Assistant Attorney General Angelique Freel argued on BESE’s behalf that LFT’s legal challenge is premature and hypothetical because the act has not been used and rules have not been promulgated.
“The fact is they can seek a waiver and be awarded one,’’ Samuel said.
Freel also told Caldwell the act “suitably furthers a state interest.’’
Supporters of the act contend the law answers years of complaints from public school leaders that they could improve classroom performance if they had less education red tape to overcome.
The act gives local officials the option of seeking four-year waivers from various state laws and rules.
The exemptions could apply to classroom size, instructional time, curriculum and teacher tenure. Local officials would have to spell out how any promised gains would be measured.
BESE would decide whether waivers are granted. Waivers could not be sought to suspend federal rules, student safety policies or graduation requirements.
The LFT claims the law unconstitutionally carves out special exemptions for individual schools.
Under state law, troubled public schools may be taken over by the state, or face other intervention, if they fail to meet improvement targets after four years.
Similar schools that land waivers and then fail to show needed improvements “shall” face a state takeover or other action, which is a more-stringent takeover requirement than schools without waivers face.
Another provision in the law requires support for the waiver from at least 50 percent of the teachers at the school that is affected.