Filed Under:  Education, News

La. Federation of Teachers holds pre-session conference

8th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By April Siese
Contributing Writer

At a press conference held last week in Metairie, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Stephen Monaghan discussed the union’s lawsuits against the controversial tenure act and voucher act of last year’s legislative session, criticized the current system of teacher evaluation, and took the state’s student voucher program to task.

The conference focused primarily on the upcoming nine week legislative session. In all, 912 house bills are looking to gain approval. Monaghan was quick to highlight last year’s session, which saw the introduction of 2,734 pieces of legislation, of which 923 were completed.

From 2012 came the contentious Acts I and II regarding public education issues such as vouchers, tenure and teacher evaluation. Acts I and II were approved, but were later deemed unconstitutional.

Commonly referred to as the tenure act, Act I was ruled unconstitutional in its entirety by Judge Timothy Kelley because it violated the single objection requirement. Act II, which called for an overhaul of the voucher program, was also ruled unconstitutional by Judge R. Michael Caldwell due to its use of funds from the Minimum Foundation Program. In both cases, which were held at the Nineteenth Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, the rulings came from lawsuits filed by LFT. LFT is part of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest unions representing education professionals.

The state has since appealed both rulings, taking each case to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Al­ready, oral arguments have been held in the appeal of Act II. A ruling is forthcoming. Oral arguments have yet to be held for Act I.

“We didn’t file the lawsuit as agents of the status quo,” Monaghan says, “We filed the lawsuits as defenders of the rule of law and guardians of the constitution.”

Now, as LFT looks towards the upcoming April 8 session, they­’ve set their sights on government transparency and the good of public schools. Because each odd year also marks a fiscal session, the main focus of the forty-five day session is to right the current budget shortfall of almost $1 billion. Monaghan says that the precise cost of educating one child in Louisiana has yet to be determined by the Louisiana Association of School Execu­tives, among others. He also cited an increase in retirement costs, which are set to rise from 15.3 percent to 27.1 percent this year.

LFT took particular issue with the current voucher system, which allows for lower-income students to essentially shop around for private schools, including for-profit and religious schools, some of which teach from erroneous, archaic textbooks. The system has outraged teachers across the state, prompting a wave of resignations and retirements. Monaghan says that teacher retirement has increased by 27 percent since last year, citing figures from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.

The current system of teacher evaluation was also called into question. In a recent poll of over 3,000 LFT members, 98 percent felt that the system was “fundamentally broken.” When asked, Monaghan said that a fair evaluation system would offer a universal model that reflects all teachers in the state in which test scores as well as administrative evaluations would be used. The current model only reflects about one-third of teachers in Louisiana.

“There should be a place in the process where teachers who are obviously strong teachers have a [way] in which they can question that evaluation if necessary, a route which they have on the principle side,” Monaghan said.

“There should be some place for the test to fit into this process, however, they should be tests that are used to inform teacher instruction so they can use that to produce a better learning atmosphere. It shouldn’t be a ‘gotcha’ test.”

This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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