With a significant victory in the courts on education policy, Gov. Bobby Jindal last year saw some vindication after a controversy over bills that were pushed through the 2012 Legislature.
The jewel in the crown of the governor’s policy battle that year was appropriately named Act 1. It was rammed through the Legislature with Republican majorities newly in charge and after a long day, into midnight hours, of sound-bite testimony from opponents.
The crowds of teachers who came for the debate were locked out of the State Capitol while the governor was allowed to testify unimpeded before the House Education Committee — and there is bitterness today among some of those teachers at that memory.
The process may have been old-style Capitol politics, but the substance of the main bill of the session was more positive: seeking to curb politics in school administration.
The law established performance objectives for local superintendents, hired by school boards at the parish or city level but now to be overseen by the state. It also gave superintendents more power over hiring and firing to limit meddling by board members in personnel decisions. And it challenged the age-old system of teacher tenure, making that status harder to get and keep unless teachers’ performance is validated by test scores and principals’ evaluations.
That’s a lot in one bill, you say? That’s exactly the objection to the process that led a respected 19th District Court judge in Baton Rouge, Mike McDonald, to strike it down; the constitution requires that bills be a single object, to prevent exactly the kind of roll-everything-into-one bill that can be pushed through without full discussion of its ramifications.
The Louisiana Supreme Court this year overturned the district court ruling, a win for Jindal and a loss for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which had challenged Act 1.
The damage from the flawed process is limited: The Legislature already has revisited some of its teacher employment provisions and made changes.
We think most of Act 1 was good policy, but we wonder about the precedent now established as the courts take a hands-off position on the “single object” requirement. Many education reformers backed Act 1, but what happens when the political winds change and a new governor and majority decide, for example, that all of the law could be repealed in a single bill, rammed through the legislative process? What about a single bill that eliminates private school tuition vouchers and charter schools? We can imagine the kind of uproar we’d hear about the “single object” clause.
But, oops, the courts have set a precedent and likely will take a pass.
We now enter a busy state election year. The battles over Act 1 and the diverse questions it raised should be debated robustly, but in our opinion, separately.